Connection begins with listening; taking the time to understand another person's needs, likes, and dislikes. Living in a world that's plugged into its devices all the time, listening has become much harder - whether it's a short attention span, or becoming easily distracted. Re-learning how to listen can benefit you in the workplace and beyond, as well as helping you connect with the world around you and the people in it.
Put away your phone, laptop, or device, make sure you're not going to be interrupted, and settle your attention on the person who needs it. Making sure you're fully present shows the person you're listening to that you think they're important, and keeping that time and space for them and them only ensures that there are no feelings of being bottom of your priority list.
Asking the right questions, and showing a genuine interest in what is being said can make all the difference. We can all fall into the trap of thinking we know everything already, so asking questions about what you're hearing, clarifying points, and responding in a way that shows you understand their point of view can help broaden your own horizons.
Being quick to judge is unhelpful at best, and toxic at worst. Creating a safe space for the people who confide in you can become a practice that opens your own mind a little more each time, as well as helping your colleague, friend, loved one, or even stranger feel heard and important.
Whatever your opinion on the matter, save your reactions 'til the end. Giving people the time to explain themselves fully is more conducive to making them feel heard than jumping the gun to respond to whatever's being said.
Don't Make It About You
We're all guilty of thinking that a similar story will appear empathetic - but speaking about your own experiences only diminishes the original point a speaker was trying to make about their own thoughts and feelings. It can be difficult to avoid this trap, as sharing is a part of human experience, so when you catch yourself wanting to relate a similar tale that focuses on you, take a moment to ask yourself if it will help the listener feel heard, or just yourself.
Listening to everyone else's problems can sometimes lead to your goodwill being taken advantage of. Making sure you create boundaries so that people don't end up using you as their emotional crutch is crucial to protecting your own mental health. The key to this is ensuring you're not available at all times; whether that's muting someone, setting quiet hours on your phone, or meeting up with somebody a little less often than usual. That being said, boundaries go the other way too - make sure you don't push too hard on sensitive topics, and read people's emotional cues for when they've reached a point they no longer wish to share.
Learning how to listen can take time, so don't be too hard on yourself if you fall into some of the traps. Starting small by putting your phone away when someone wants your attention is a powerful first step, and then all the other habits - with practice - will fall into place over time.