Hear them out
It happened over twenty years ago (!), but I remember it like it was yesterday. I was the Resident Assistant for a summer program at college, and one of my residents had been studying really hard for a test she was worried about. I asked her, "How did it go?" and she responded, "I got a C." As someone who preferred to get As and Bs, I wasn't sure whether we should be celebrating or commiserating. So - and this is crucial - I asked her. "How do you feel about that?" "Great! I was so afraid I was going to fail."
And there you have it. If I had assumed she was disappointed in the grade, we both would have been embarrassed. And she might have been really hurt if I'd assumed she was happy with it while it had actually fallen short of her expectations.
It seems to me that we're even less likely to hear each other out these days. We either try to put a positive spin on everything or we assume the worst. "How was your weekend?" "Well, my plans for Friday night got cancelled." "Nice! You didn't have to go out after a long week!" might be the perfect response. Or it might be perfectly terrible if they were really looking forward to it. Same with "Oh no, that sucks. I'm so, so sorry." Then you look silly if they were relieved the plans were cancelled.
Instead of responding right away, hear them out. Let them keep talking. If you have to say something, ask a question. "How do you feel about that?" is a great one. Or "What happened?" If they say something you disagree with, don't jump in to disagree. Ask them more questions. Learn about where they're coming from.
When you hear someone out, you validate them. When you don't, you alienate them. I remember approaching a lay pastor for prayer after a church service. I shared a way I was feeling inferior in the parenting department. Before I could even explain, she said, "Oh no you're not." Case closed. Mouth shut. I felt shut down. And I haven't approached someone for prayer since.
I recently started using the Marco Polo app with a dear friend. We've gotten so much closer as a result. I think it's because it's a one-way conversation; she records a video, I listen and watch. And vice versa. No interruptions. We just hear each other out.
In a conversation? Open your ears and your mind. Close your mouth.
Hear them out.