Considering that ears are God-given organs which are vital for carrying out basic day to day functions, it’s surprising how listening is a skill that is difficult to come by. I’m not talking about deaf people or the hearing impaired; I’m talking about people who hear but rarely listen. While plenty of people are willing to talk incessantly about their troubles, the ratio between listeners and talkers is still far and wide and leaves much to be desired.

So here’s my two-cents on how to move towards being a better person and a good listener.

  1. When someone is talking to you

… and it’s a genuine pouring-out-one’s-heart-and-soul kind of conversation, it is crucial that you put down your phone, maintain frequent eye contact and properly listen. By eye contact, I don’t mean flickering your eyes back and forth between your phone and the other person’s face and making half-hearted “mmhmm” noises under the guise of being half-concerned. Also, do not, I repeat, do not glance repeatedly at something else behind the talker’s head because that just screams “There’s something more interesting going on behind you and what I really want to do is to leave you to get a closer look.”

2. When you’re talking to someone

…and you finish your story, basic common sense will tell you that it is their turn to talk next. Do not use their turn as a chance to replenish your oxygen, recharge your energy, to “discreetly” catch up on your Instagram feed or tweet something. Just because you have already had your say, does not make it alright to tune out of the conversation. Other people’s ears are not trash cans for your burdens and a good conversation is always a two-way street. Return the favour by dedicating as much attention to them as they have to you.

3. When you’re listening to someone’s problems

Do not frequently butt in with your solutions or interrupt their story to provide your own perspective of what is going on. Most of the time you’ll find that most people with problems just want someone to listen to them as talking about it makes it easier to cope with. Unless that person explicit asks you, “What should I do?”, don’t bother interrupting with your two cents until they’re done. But at the same time, sitting there gormless with a useless, blank expression is a big no-no as well. Make soothing noises, cluck like a chicken if you have to. The entire point of being on the other side is to make them feel better.

4. If you’re looking for someone to talk to

… don’t aim for the innocent bystander. Don’t target the person just minding their own business and playing Candy Crush on their phone. Don’t engage with the person who’s falling asleep. If possible, find someone you’ve already established a proper connection with. And if you have to unload on someone you’re not very close with, then ask for their permission first. Don’t talk at people.

5. But if you’re already talking to someone and…

You realize that they’ve zoned out halfway, cut your losses, end your story and move on. There’s no point in sharing a part of yourself with someone who will not treat it with the attention it deserves. (Also, there might be a possibility that you’ve been ranting for too long and even repeating yourself. It happens.)

So fill up your good deed quota. Open your ears. Engage, respond and interact. Listen to someone to save a life today!