Just sit there a minute. Allow yourself the chance to listen to the sounds of this other person’s words.
You can avoid making eye contact with this person while you listen. It’s okay to do this every now and then.
It’s okay to go ahead and glance past this person. Maybe there’s another person back there, typing on his or her phone. A clock in the wall. A computer screen on which some user has left open a web browser. The windows are floor-to-ceiling and huge. To not glance out occasionally would appear foolish.
You’re a person. Just like the person you’re speaking to. Your personhood and all of its glorious inconsistency is what makes this other person so interested in talking to you in the first place. So own it. Your personhood.
Nod. Say something to let this person know you’re still (mostly) present in both mind and body.
Offer a bit of insight. Perhaps share a personal experience or two to go along with whatever the other person was just saying.
Smile, so that you feel the muscles in your cheeks crimp like the muscles in your arms crimp after a long workout.
Try to ask yourself, what drives this person to share this or that thing? What’s on his/her mind? What hurts? What’s making him/her happy?
Ask the other person these questions. You’d be surprised how often the obvious questions elicit the most sincere responses.
When you listen, hone in on the words this person uses. Take quick mental notes on the way they react, whether they glance past you the way you’ve been glancing past them. Do they fidget, or dig their hands into their jacket pockets. Do they remind your of yourself?
Listening is hard. Admit it. Admit how hard it is to get outside your head, your own roiling kaleidoscope of a mind. Admit, too, that it’s worth it to struggle to listen.
Struggle to make sure you speak directly to the point this other person made. Go ahead and use phrases like, “Like you just said, I think _____.” Fill the blank with a thought that comes to mind when you return to the words the other person said, the words you paid careful attention to a minute ago.
The mind does crazy things. If you feed it, it gives back what’s needed. It can offer up inspiration for a joke, a story to help ease another’s sense of isolation or struggle. If you let it, it’ll probably surprise you, show how truly connected you and this other person really are by experience, insight, the ways you both go about the business of being alive.