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19: Seven Steps to be a Better Listener

Oct 01, 2019

Guys. When was the last time you really listened to another man? Like, really listened. Opened up. Shared a rich and meaningful discussion? If it’s been a while, it may be time to work on your listening skills. Kevin Curtis shares the skills you need to know to listen better.

Episode Transcript

This content was originally created for audio. Some elements such as tone, sound effects, and music can be hard to translate to text. As such, the following is a summary of the episode and has been edited for clarity. For the full experience, we encourage you to subscribe and listen— it's more fun that way.

How Would You Rate Your Listening Skills?

It's a common stereotype that men don't talk about their health. That may be why some people believe men don't care about their health. But maybe the reason most men don't talk about their health is because they don't know how to listen to one another.

How would you rate yourself when it comes to your listening skills?

Scot is the son of western South Dakota rancher who grew up mostly an only child. He feels his upbringing and culture has led him to be very uncomfortable talking about difficult things with other people and opening up. He doesn't feel he's a very good listener and constantly tries to solve other people's problems rather than listening.

Troy on the other hand feels like he's a pretty good listener, but he didn't used to be. It took years of experience at his job as an ER physician to learn how to listen out of necessity.

On this episode we're learning how to be a better listener with Kevin Curtis, the Director of Crisis Services with the University of Utah Neuropsychiatric Institute.

The 7 Steps to Becoming a Better Listener

Whether you're talking about sports, mental health, or anything in-between, there are a key set of skills that are useful in any conversation. No matter how light or how heavy the topic is, It's important to build a foundation of understanding how to listen. Here are the seven key components of being a better listener"

Step 1: Create a Comfortable Setting and Opportunity to Have a Conversation
The first step to having a meaningful discussion with another person is to create an opportunity to have that discussion in a place you can both be comfortable.

If you believe someone in your life is in need and trying to open up, offer them an opportunity to talk. Invite them out to get a drink. Offer to snag lunch. Go to a ballgame. By offering, you've allowed yourself to be available to listen if they want to talk and by choosing a relaxing setting there will be less pressure and stress on the conversation itself.

And most importantly: After you offer an opportunity to talk, actually go and do it.

Step 2: Talk Less, Listen More
One of the most important parts of listening is to be present in the conversation. Don't let your mind wander and be distracted. Focus on the now. Listen to what they're sharing and be willing to engage.

For many of us, staying present in a conversation is hard, but we may not realize it. One of the most common difficulties with being present is that people keep thinking of what to say next. You will listen to the first part of what the person is sharing, then the rest of your mind is busy thinking about what you should say when they're finished. Or they share a personal problem with you and you immediately begin trying to think of a solution. This is not being present. This is not listening.

It's easy to assume that what you say and contribute during a conversation is the most important, but that's not the case. Sometimes the most meaningful part of a conversation is letting the other person share and be heard.

Remember, it's not about you.

Step 3: Be Okay with Silences
Silences can feel awkward, but they don't have to be. We often try to fill the discomfort that comes from silence with talking, but ultimately halts the conversation from getting any deeper or more meaningful.

Silences allow people to think and gain incite about whatever is being discussed. It gives us a moment to digest new information and consider how it makes us feel. It also gives a chance for us to consider what to say next and questions to ask. It allows us to feel and be vulnerable.

Kevin Curtis explains that he will ask a question then sit in silence for minutes while he waits for a patient to respond. It leads to a deeper understanding between him and the people he talks with. He reminds listeners that some of the most meaningful conversations in life don't have a lot of talking.

Step 4: Ask Good Questions
When you're listening to someone share something difficult, make sure you're asking questions that are there to help you understand what the person is saying. One of the biggest parts of feeling validated is when a person knows that they've been heard and understood.

Show that you're listening and trying to understand by mirroring what they've said with a question. For example, "Here's what I heard, is that what you meant?" or "So you're saying this. Do I have that right?" This is a simple question that show that you've been listening to what they've said and - more importantly - taken steps to make sure you understand them.

If they're discussing a situation you have little to no experience with, you should ask questions about the parts you don't understand. For instance, "That sounds really hard, but I want to understand more. Can you tell me more about this aspect?"

These are both types of active listening. This skill shows the other person that you're hearing what's said, saying something that reflects to show understanding and validating the person who's decided to open up to you.

Step 5: Be Careful When Sharing Your Personal Experience
Sharing your own experience can sometimes be helpful in a tough conversation. It can help build a stronger relationship through sharing an experience. Being vulnerable about your struggles can help validate that the person is not alone with their troubles. In some cases your story can even provide alternative pathways and a potential examples for how to improve their own situation.

However, it's important not to offer solutions. Do not use your own vulnerability to prescribe how the other person should ‘fix' their problems. Do not say something like, "I've gone through something similar. Here's what I did. You should do that." Do not assume what works for you will work for them.

Every person and every situation is different. What works for you may not work for them. Your job is to listen, not fix their problem.

Also, when sharing, be sure to avoid making the conversation about you. Sharing your own story can be really helpful in some cases, but if you take over the conversation, you're not helping them.

Step 6: Do Not Stress About Saying the Right Thing
Far too often we assume that the one hard conversation will be the last. We assume that we only have one shot to make the conversation meaningful to the other person. If we can't say the right thing, at the right time, in the right way - something bad may happen.

That's just not true. In fact, stressing about what saying everything perfectly will take you out of the moment and make you a bad listener. Be present, listen, and honestly participate in the conversation.

You don't have to be the hero of the conversation. There's more benefit to the other person in being heard and validated than any type of advice you could give. Besides, you can always talk more later.

"You'll always have another opportunity," says Kevin. There are no tidy conclusions in life, same goes for conversations. Most of them are just the first step in a much richer ongoing dialogue and a deeper relationship.

Step 7: Validate Them for Being Vulnerable
Opening up to someone else is hard. It takes a lot to be vulnerable to another person. Sharing your feelings isn't weak, it's one of the bravest things a person can do. So let the other person know that.

Thank them for opening up. Show appreciation that the person trusts you.

This small act of acknowledging the other person's vulnerability can open the door to future conversations. An opportunity for you to ask them "How's it going?" and have another enriching discussion.

You'll never find a solution to someone's problems in a single discussion. Treat every difficult conversation as the first step of support.

Asking the Hard Questions

If you see signs of depression or suicide in a friend or loved one, having a conversation about it can be especially difficult. When a person is in crisis, it's more important than ever to be brave and be a good listener.

Ask questions that seek to understand how they're feeling rather than deflect the emotional topic. These questions may be extremely uncomfortable to you, but it provides an opportunity for you to get involved and help them get the support they need.

For example, ask things like "Tell me more about how you are feeling. "Are you feeling suicidal?" "Have you had thoughts about ending your life?"

The may seem scary to ask, but they're important to ask if you're going to understand how the situation the other person is in and how fully assess how you can help.

Remember, you are not the solution to their depressive or suicidal thoughts, but you can validate and support them while they're in crisis. Merely asking about thoughts suicide does not drive a person to the act of suicide. Kevin says that there are plenty of studies that show that you are not introducing the idea of suicide just by asking about it. If an individual feels suicidal, they have already thought about it.

One of the most important things to say is, "I'm really worried about you. How can I help?" This opens the door to allow you from transitioning being the sole source of support, to being the supportive person helping them get the professional help they need.

If you or someone in your life is having thoughts about suicide, contact the Crisis Line at (801)-587-3000. The line is not only for people in crisis, but for people who are worried that someone they love may be having throught of suicide. Their professionals will help guide you through the steps you can take to help get your loved one the

Just Going to Leave This Here

On this episode's Just Going to Leave This Here, Scot supports Greta Thunberg and her environmental action. He reminds us that the environment can have an impact on your health, so it's something we should care about. And Troy went to see Toto live and he had a blast.

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