Thanks to Megan Cossey over on Medium for the inspiration for this piece – she picked the title. The title is a good place to start.
I think the first time I got the ‘learn to listen lesson’ was when I was fourteen. I went to a conference and there was this workshop on listening. It covered things like how to convey listening with body language (don’t cross arms or legs) and the importance of nodding and making affirmative noises, or rephrasing what people were saying back to them so they understood that you’d understood.
The problem I had with this (which I continued to have every time these ‘learn to listen lessons’ came up) was I was so much in my head thinking about if my body language was open and I was nodding enough and which phrase to take and rephrase back, that I wasn’t really listening at all.
I learned how to really listen soon after I learned to meditate. I’ve been getting better at it ever since but I put myself through an intensive listening practice two years ago. As soon as I was in a conversation with someone and realised they had something they really needed to chew over and get off their chest, I would set my intention: Be present.
To really listen is to be present. To be in the moment with another and take on board what they are saying. Not to relate it to your own experience so you can feedback unless they ask for it. Not to cross or uncross your arms at the right moment (generally we mimic body language, especially when we are more attentive) or to nod at just the right moment.
To listen is to show up totally for another person.
2. Let go of your expectations
Y’know how hard it is to go home because your parents still see you as a kid and they expect you to do dumb-ass stuff like you did when you were a kid? Or they expect you to fall back into routines you used to have when you lived at home still and then you don’t and they act all funny and you feel resentful? Or they expect that you will eat certain things or dress in a certain way?
It sucks, doesn’t it?
Now have you ever noticed how you expect your parents to not have those expectations even though they always have? And you expect that they should stop doing the annoying things that they have always done since you were a kid?
That sucks too, doesn’t it?
When we expect people to be a certain way and then we get annoyed or irritated or angry with them for it, that’s on us. We all know how much it sucks when other people expect us to be different. So if you want to make someone else’s life easier, learn to expect nothing more than for them to be who they are, as they are in any given moment.
We can always safely expect that people will be people.
3. Own your emotions
This ties in pretty tightly with number two.
Emotions are universal in that human beings experience sadness, grief, joy, delight, pleasure, fear, anger and so on. We can describe these emotions to each other and we understand that we also experience them very similarly on a physiological level.
But your emotions are yours. What makes you sad might not be what makes me sad. What triggers anxiety in you won’t necessarily trigger anxiety in another person. In that way no one else can ‘make’ us feel anything.
So the next time you want to blame your mother for your anxiety or your spouse for your irritation or that guy who just cut you off in traffic for your anger, remember that they are not the cause of how you feel. They’re just the trigger for the propensity you have created for how you feel.
The bonus advantage to owning your emotions is not only that it makes the lives of people around you easier, it makes your own life easier. Because you have always been in charge of your emotions.
How you feel isn’t up to anyone else but yourself!
4. Be kind
Showing kindness is far more difficult than people realise. We spend so much time thinking of ourselves and our little bubble that we get trapped in protecting our sense of self. We get stuck on our opinions being validated, our ideas being acknowledged and our expectations met.
It is far better to be kind than it is to be right. Before you do or say something you can ask yourself: Will this be of benefit to the world?
Kindness is so simple and the difference it makes is immeasurable. We can smile at someone we pass on the street, or slow down and hold a door for someone, or let another driver in when traffic is building up. Our time is no more important than anyone else’s. To be kind is to be humble, to think of others and help.
The thing about making other people’s lives easier is that it actually goes a long way to making our lives easier. That whole butterfly effect pay-it-forward one-planet-one-human-race thing, y’know?
Please share your ideas in the comments of how to make other people’s lives easier!
When not writing, making art or recording podcasts,
Kaitlyn can be found in trees, listening to Dharma talks on her iPod, Boon.
Thusly named because
Brian Froud = Awesome.