While one of the most coveted communication skills today is the ability to listen, there are some who are both blessed and cursed with a hypersensitive listening ear. Often self-identified as introverts and mistakenly classified as quiet or disinterested, they lead a simple life unheralded by tweets, posts or status updates. As a result, they take their post as counselors, charging nothing for listening to endless rants about the stress of college applications, shady boyfriends or the faults in their friends' family dynamics. They become walking encyclopedias, well versed in the most intimate affairs of their friends and family, both close and distant. Yet when approached by a troubled soul, they can't deny their listening ear, either for a lack of assertiveness, an overwhelmingly huge sense of empathy or a combination of both.
Hi, I'm Anastasiya and I can't talk about myself. Even in writing this article and deconstructing this largely learned behavior, I feel inadequate and egotistical dedicating a whole article to a "me" problem. This feeling itself is the root of our problem. Speaking for self-contained souls like myself, I can testify that our willingness to listen is majorly derived from a good-natured attempt to comfort our friends in any way we can. We've probably had our own share of ignorant friends and believe that old saying about only reaping the things we sow. On top of all that well-wishing, we obviously genuinely care about our relationships. Props to us. Yet, while in some relationships the opportunity to talk about ourselves comes about every so often, we are being drowned out in others and are losing all sense of self as a result. Overtime, we become accustomed to placing our own emotions on the backburner, bottling up our own emotions and letting our emotions wreak havoc in our lives. Unsurprisingly, this Yes Man mentality stems from low self-esteem perpetuated by others' faulty judgment of our needs. Yes, we like to accommodate those we love, and although as people-pleasers we place ourselves in the perfect position to be taken advantage of, we aren't signing up to be side-stepped in every relationship. So if "listening" is single-handedly decimating every other person, why is it that modern platforms like Forbes, Fortune, and Entrepreneur have made good active listening a cornerstone of effective leadership strategies? As British Entrepreneur Richard Branson described to Fortune in 2013 as one of his personal success strategies, "Wherever I go, I try to spend as much time as possible listening to the people I meet." The irony of how debilitating listening may be to one category of people and empowering to the next may lie in miscommunication between different personalities.
Let me debunk a few misconceptions: introverts like myself can be very engaging when speaking of something we're passionate about. We have opinions, but like to keep some things for ourselves because we think a lot before we speak. It's not that we'd rather just talk or just listen because in any given relationship there should be open dialogue and understanding both ways, and that should ring true for everyone. Branson credited his skill to his quiet father, but his father's presence wasn't muted because he was "quiet," he was respected for who he was instead of being blamed for it. This concept can be applied to nearly every scenario in which we choose to validate our unwillingness to change by finding a fault in our adversary. In an age where identity is constantly being redefined, we can all afford to listen a little more — especially to those who listen too much.
Therefore, for those like me, we can start by defining clear boundaries with our family and friends. We can host an introductory course to dealing with hypersensitive loved ones and reminding them to let us talk once in a while so we avoid neglecting our emotions. In extreme cases, Psychology Today recommends evaluating the pros and cons to listening to musings and practicing your right to say no when you've had enough. Remember, you can only demand the respect you think you deserve. Needless to say, respect yourself and others. To those who fall on the other end of the spectrum, always remember that you shouldn't uphold your loved ones to standards put in place by society because they are unique living and breathing individuals demanding respect, just like you. Find ways to check in on them and make sure they aren't going under just as they'd do for you, and always remember that their tendencies to please people have good intentions, which means you should appreciate that they really care about you and try to reciprocate it.
While some of us may feel used when listening to endless accounts of drama and others can't seem to stop talking, author of "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People," Stephen Covey, reminds us that "most people do not listen with the intent to understand. Most people listen with the intent to reply." If the true virtue in listening is gaining a greater understanding of oneself through others, then by all means, call me empathetic.