When I was little, I was loquacious af. I
wanted demanded a spotlight on me at all times, in all sorts of situations — from dubbing myself “Trixie the Tourguide” (lol, oh boy) on family vacations to bossily corralling anyone who would listen for lengthy one-woman shows. I spoke sang at every opportunity, and would often have full-blown conversations with myself because I literally needed an audience at all times. But hold up. Lest you think this is all a happy-go-lucky, Pollyanna story of an intrepid youngster with an impressively pretentious vocabulary and too much sass for her own good, let’s just go ahead and drop a big ol’ serving of…
Puberty was not good to me. Remember those unicorn kids that were good looking in middle school? What deal did they make with the devil, amiright. The years between 11 and 14 were a nightmare on my confidence. I forcibly cringe when looking at my school photos from that time and when my sister-in-law tried to joke with me about my serious lack of hair skills back then it was still WAY TOO SOON. I want to be that well-adjusted, ~totally cool~ person who puts said photos in this article like haha, I’m so over it now! but who are we kidding I’ll just burn all the photos instead problem solved.
During and after this fiery hellscape of tweendom, I basically stopped talking entirely. I’m sure my family was relieved Trixie the Tourguide had been officially laid to rest. This was partly natural — I was basically having my Inside Out moment where core memories slide from the endless golden joy of childhood to blue-tinged adolescence. But the shift felt so extreme — this whole self-conscious thing was new to me and I hated it. I was just a whirling tornado of embarrassment — from acne to unfortunate cargo pant choices to my suddenly apparent lack of boyfriends. To give you an idea of how far I retreated into my shell, I have a vivid memory of a moment in which, senior year, I spoke to the guy who had a locker next to mine since middle school and he seemed genuinely surprised I had working vocal cords. I realize these are not earth-shattering problems. But they felt that way at the time.
At this point you’re probably like, Kelly this is making me think about my own time with puberty and it’s not fun can you just get to the point about being a good listener already. Well, don’t worry, I have a point. It was during this time — what I would consider some of the most unpleasant years of my life — that I developed my superpower.[Pause for oohs and ahhs]
Spoiler alert: it’s listening. People always tell me I’m a great listener, even though I’m not always that great. (Hey, even Captain America can’t win every time and yes, I did just compare myself to Captain America thanks for noticing.) Listening — really listening to someone — can be challenging. You have to put yourself on hold and devote time, energy, mental effort to another person without judgment and without expecting anything in return. But those terribly terrible (and dare I say it a touch ~dramatic~) years of wanting to hide away, keep any vulnerable areas tucked safely out of sight, has made me wary of opening up to others — and all the more eager to allow others to open up to me. This isn’t necessarily a good thing, but it has allowed me to hone my listening skills uninterrupted for years. You take the good with the bad, you know? Now, people frequently share with me — about little things and not-so-little things happening in their lives. And my listening skillz are something I’ve grown to be proud of, simply because I can help someone else unburden themselves, even for just a few minutes. Here are a few tips I’ve learned along the way (puberty not included, thank god):
Don’t immediately try to “fix” the situation
Have you ever needed to rant to someone — like a real, full-fledged, swearful rant — and then they try to offer you a bunch of advice or couch your ire afterward? Oh, but I’m sure so-and-so you’re mad at just had a bad day! Are you sure you should be so angry?
Ranting can be good. It can be healthy. Sometimes, you just need to let. it. all. out. And when someone starts ranting to you — let them! Don’t try to “fix” the situation, that’s not what they need. They need some blissful, uninterrupted minutes of relief. Give them the space to talk.
If you’re not super familiar with the person and their rhythms yet, you can always ask at the beginning of a conversation: Do you need to vent? Or are we solving a problem here? If they want your advice, then feel free to give it. But 9 times out of 10, I want to talk because I’m feeling the stress, or the anger, or the sadness and I just need someone to listen for a few minutes. Being that someone is LYFE CHANGING for your friends, family, even a semi-stranger.
Don’t be judgmental — ever
I struggle with judgment a lot. Like A LOT A LOT. I’ve had friends (more than one) tell me I’m really judgmental, directly to my face. (But hey, I reserve the most judgment for myself cause #welladjusted.) Presenting a listening ear without judgment is something I’ve been working on in earnest this past year. It’s difficult because often, I don’t even realize I’m being judgmental and I think that can happen when you’re listening to someone else — you make what you think is a throw-away comment or facial expression and they feel put off. You’ve hurt them or made them wary — unintentionally or not.
This is where taking yourself out of the equation is really important — you don’t have to be a lifeless drone, you can still have your personality (clearly mine is ~flawless~), but take your specific opinions out of the mix. It’s not about you.
If you’re having a hard time with judgment, I FEEL YOU. There’s no flip to switch. You just have to keep learning as you grow. I recommend lots of listening as practice. And if someone feels judged by you, acknowledge their feelings. Own your shortcomings. Try to move forward, better than you were before. It’s all any of us can do, really.
Actually listen — carefully and considerately
I think this is the true secret to being a great listener and something I do my best to practice every time a friend comes to me needing an ear. There is nothing worse than talking to someone and literally feeling how checked-out they are. It can be obvious (GET OFF YOUR PHONE PEOPLE) or completely internal mind wandering, but either way, it really sucks.
Listening takes mental energy because you have to focus your brain, you have to take in what the other person is saying completely. So that you can respond thoughtfully and most importantly make them feel heard. We all need to be heard sometimes. And let me tell you, Instagram and Twitter and Facebook are cool and all but they don’t always cut it. There’s nothing like talking with someone who is looking you in the eye, nodding along with what you say, offering attentive comments. Just fully engaging with you. It’s a way to instantly make someone feel special, important, valued.
What’s becoming more and more important to me lately is not what I have — it’s not a very good indication of happiness… except for Game of Thrones of course — but the joy I feel from doing something I know made someone else happy. It’s a bit sappy-Lifetime-movie, but it’s true. I want people to remember me by the feelings I gave them — Kelly always made me feel heard, accepted, loved. What’s more beautiful than that?
And it’s been especially lovely to realize that a pretty wonderful, useful, important life skill came out of a very lonely, isolated period in my life. I’d say that’s superpower-worthy. ✨