Your best listeners are your best people

The best people listen with empathy. Start by keeping a mindful watch on how you feel at the end of each conversation. Did you feel heard?

Gave undivided attention

This is a no brainer. The foremost thing is to offer their time. By showing that they are fully present in the conversation they set the mood. They convey that there is nothing else more important. It encourages conversations to flow in directions that otherwise would not.

Did not trivialize issues

Conversations should not repeatedly feel like a “my issues are worse than yours” competition. We have all been in those conversations where one party is trying to hog attention. Empathetic listeners are patient, they are happy to let you drive the conversation and know when to do the talking. If you find yourself in conversations where you are doing most of the talking and the other party is happy to let you, it’s an indication that you are being a bad listener. Unless they’re being paid to listen, never assume that the other party has nothing to say. It’s more likely that you have not brought the conversation to a point where they are feeling comfortable expressing.

Did not rush their points in

Oftentimes we are in conversations where the other party is just waiting for you to finish so they can get their point in. They are trying to listen actively but in their head they’re going over what they want to say as soon as you’re done talking. They are just waiting because it’s rude to interrupt. It gives the impression that they are listening. Look for people who take time to structure their thoughts after you’re done talking.

Did not try to get a rise out of you

Even the introverts and loners need some degree of human interaction. Watch for people who are trying to entertain themselves by evoking emotional responses. They are not mindful about topics that you may be sensitive towards. They prey on your insecurities and make you feel small. There is a constructive way to talk about someone’s insecurities, if done the right way it builds character and nourishes them.

Assured their understanding

The obvious cues are nodding, maintaining eye contact, the hmms. Unfortunately, these are the easiest to feign. The best listeners show their understanding even after the conversation has ended. They reference things you said in previous conversations. They show it in their actions somehow. You hear from them something along the lines of “You were talking about whatever, here’s something I came across that I thought might interest you”. Your conversations have a long arc and a short arc.

Bet on people who bet on you

You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with

You may have heard this before. Your mind may be rushing to list who the five people in your life are. I want to talk about how to choose the five people you spend your time with. We should be mindful of the predicate function that is selecting who to spend time with. I don’t know if there is a winning formula, but there could certainly be a framework that helps us hone our predicate function.

I believe the quickest way to weed out noise is by identifying people who bet on you; and betting on them in return. This may sound obvious. But we (me included) don’t always follow this strictly. We sometimes get stuck on wanting to be a part of an existing group; wanting someone’s time, attention, etc. Also, it’s not easy to identify who is genuinely betting on you. How do we then decide?

Pay close attention to their actions

Disregard what people say. We live in a generation that is afraid to handle emotions. People don’t want to deal with other people. We would rather pretend nice than resolve conflicts face to face in a non violent manner. If someone’s word is their bond, it’s an added bonus. But, you base your judgement heavily on their actions.

This indirectly reveals if someone has a long term mindset. And that’s the key. People with short term mindset tend to evade the messier problems and pretend nice. Their strategy for life, as observed by you, is a series of optimizations for the present. It does not cost much to only say nice words and not put money where one’s mouth is. People who just talk are not thinking that they will need to play with you in the long term. It’s like the prisoner’s dilemma. If it’s a one turn game, then of course you would want to screw your partner over. However, if you have to be around for several turns, you will cooperate.

The trouble with dealing with people who think it’s a one turn game (short term mindset) is that your association never compounds. It’s like a tennis player playing his first game for the tenth time. You want to be a player who is playing his tenth game for the first time. And that only happens with history, with context. You want people to stick around long term. You want people to bet on you.

Do not forget the cost of time

In compounding associations, I believe the payoff comes in larger quantities towards the end. You and your people are growing over the years anyway.

Anything or anyone that does not bring you alive is too small for you