Active Listening (Part 1) : What is it?

Active Listening (Part 1) : What is it?

One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say. 

Bryant H. McGill


I first heard the term “active listening” in a psychology class. Over time, I learned that this term was more than a concept. In fact, it is an essential skill of any kind of dialogue, as it allows the listener to be in the present and focus on what is being said, while the speaker feels more comfortable to share feelings and thoughts.

The feeling of being understood is always rewarding, yet it does not always take place in daily interactions. From small exchanges to more significant ones, we have all experienced the feeling of being misunderstood and have probably misunderstood something as well. Misunderstandings can be heard through comments such as “That’s not what I’m talking about!” or “You didn’t listen to me!” Emotionally, misunderstandings can create loneliness, decrease self-confidence as well as generate feelings of contempt or anger.

So why don’t we communicate more efficiently? The easiest answer is because we don’t know how to do so. In reality, people start communicating and listening at home by modeling what they see from their parents. They continue learning on playgrounds, in classrooms and at work with their colleagues. Just like other social skills, people discover the concept of dialogue through their own experience. Although it can be difficult to change the way we listen to others, we can practice and become better at it every day. Ultimately, how well a person listens to another will make a significant difference in his or her present and future relationships.

Here are a few simple guidelines that can be implemented by anyone wanting to become a better listener.

The first rule is to pay attention. What does that mean? Unless it is a phone conversation or an irrelevant discussion, the listener needs to be in direct eyesight with the person who is talking. Yelling from another room or cooking while talking doesn’t show the speaker that we are paying much attention to what he or she is saying. Similarly, talking through text or social media doesn’t give our full attention to the person and the message. Establishing eye contact, and noticing body language are important elements of actively listening to someone and showing him or her that we are present and focused in the moment. Therefore, to have a meaningful conversation with someone, it is important to stay away from anything that could distract us.

The second rule, and an essential one, is to remember that listening doesn’t mean to mentally prepare for an answer while the speaker is still talking. Thinking about an answer while someone is talking can not only prevent the listener from understanding what is being said, but it can also change the focus of the conversation from the speaker to the listener. For instance, if the speaker is sharing feelings of anxiety and fear because of an upcoming doctor’s appointment and we reply with something such as “I actually like going to the doctor, it’s better to be preventive than going later to fix something more serious”, we have completely disregarded the person’s feelings and have changed the focus on us. In this situation, a good listener shows to the speaker that he or she is there, and has heard the feelings of anxiety. Instead of telling the person what we might do or not do in that same situation, we can ask the speaker what would help him/her? Or how has he/she handled a similar situation in the past? Questions help the listener understand and show the speaker that we care.

The third rule is to keep feedback relevant to the situation and judgment honest and respectful. Giving our opinion or making a judgment to someone who is sharing with us something personal is not helpful. Unless the person is directly asking for our personal opinion, it is often not necessary and therefore, useless in active listening. This guideline can be difficult for some of us to follow. We might be tempted to share something personal that we believe would be interesting or useful in a given situation. We might also interrupt because we believe that the thought the speaker just shared is absurd, false or simply annoying to us. That’s exactly when we need to be self-aware of when our opinion is needed and when it isn’t.

Ultimately, we have to treat the speaker the same way we would want to be treated when we find ourselves in the same situation. Choosing words carefully and showing to the person that we don’t need anything else but his or her trust is a fundamental rule of any kind of communication. This cannot only improve relationships but also establish a strong foundation for self-respect.

Four Factors to Consider When Thinking About Productivity

Four Factors to Consider When Thinking About Productivity

Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire: it is the time for home.

Edith Sitwell

As winter approaches, I find it more challenging to find motivation to focus on finishing projects. As it appears, cold and rainy days pair better with a blanket than a laptop. Productivity reaches its all time low for the year. Nonetheless, not wanting to carry this year’s tasks into 2020, I convinced myself to sit down and get some work done. Feeling unmotivated and stuck during a project is very common. Quite frankly, there is nothing wrong with feeling that way. We are all entitled to take time off, to practice self-care and concentrate on things that make us happy. It becomes a problem when we want to work and do our best to stay focused yet things get in the way. The unproductivity in itself is not harmful, but when it is accompanied by concern, anxiety or depression, it can be. Here are a few tips to consider when we feel unproductive but have the will to get back on track.

1- Know yourself and the way you work.

Your time and your tasks need your full attention. Because we all run out of time on a daily basis, it is necessary to set time aside for the tasks that we want to accomplish. If you know to be a morning person, creating time earlier in he day can be helpful. If you know that you need the house to be quiet while working, maybe it’s better to set up work hours when nobody is home and the dog has already been walked. Have you thought about categorizing your tasks? Sometimes we realize that we have put time aside, the house is perfectly quiet and nobody is in need of our attention, yet we can’t seem to start. That’s probably because all tasks aren’t created equal. Some might require more energy while others can be done through multi-tasking. Figuring all this out can definitely be overwhelming! Don’t skip this step. Prioritize your tasks in a way that makes sense for you and evaluate how long each might take. If your work requires research first, it’s important to know it and schedule it beforehand. Knowing how you work will help you increase productivity in the long run. For example, how well do you work with deadlines? Do you prefer starting with easier or more difficult tasks? Does a to-do list help? Knowing the answers to these questions will ultimately lead you feeling more motivated and even enthusiastic about the work itself.

2- Distractions are everywhere.

That’s just a fact and most likely, they are not going anywhere. It is up to us to reconfigure the way we work. This means understanding how we spend our time and whether or not we are aware of the distractions surrounding us. For instance, working on a laptop can give us access to social media platforms in seconds. Targeted ads could lead us to read useless articles, make compulsive purchases or even reply to emails that are not on our to do list. Identifying those distractions and recognizing our weaknesses will help us remove ourselves from wasted time online. Decluttering the space that surrounds us is an essential first step. As our workspace gets cleaner from distractions, so does our mind.

3- Take breaks when needed.

We have all felt burned out. When our work piles up or requires us to become a little bit more creative and think outside the box, we can get stuck. When it feels overwhelming, it becomes very tempting to give up. Then, the vicious circle of unproductivity hits and the longer our breaks become, the less productive we feel. Breaks are essential in any kind of work. They allow us to reset physically and emotionally from the tasks ahead of us. But in order for it to count, a break needs to be restful and limited. If we take a break from task A to finish task B, we are not taking a restful break. We are just postponing task A. When we rest, our mind and our body need to be in a state that gives us a sense of peace. Reading a book, going on a walk, listening to a podcast, having a yoga session are all activities that can be restful to both the mind and the body. Breaks need to also stay limited in time. If it’s too short, it might not make a difference in the way we feel. If it’s too long, it becomes a technique of avoidance. Only YOU know what kind of break you need. Ideally, you would schedule it in advance after knowing what works best for you.

4- Set goals and keep them in mind.

When we no longer feel productive and want to quit, our initial goal(s) can help us get motivated and redesign the way we think about a project. Perhaps we’ve been so focused on micromanaging our own work that we forgot the reason why we even started the project. Keeping goals in mind or written somewhere in full sight can help us stay focused and remember the long-term vision of our project. Set realistic short-term goals. They will help you stay on track and keep yourself organized daily. Short-term goals are often necessary steps leading us to the bigger picture. Therefore, set up long-term goals as well. If that seems harder for you, think of where you would see yourself in a year from now. Having long-term goals will be your motivation on days when you are lacking ideas. It will also be the determining factor in the choices you make along your journey. We are only as productive as the best efforts we put in. Listen to yourself. Be aware of the signs that your mind and body are sending to you, they matter.

Turning 30

Turning 30

 “Everything I know I learned after I was thirty”.

Georges Clemenceau

My Last Decade in bullet points (30 before 30):

  • Finding a lifelong partner
  • Visiting a Caribbean island
  • Cooking a 4-course meal
  • Snorkeling
  • Owning a decent camera and learning photography
  • Binge-watching a TV show
  • Landing in Armenia and seeing Mt. Ararat
  • Obtaining a Master’s degree in psychology
  • Catching a fish
  • Watching a sunset over the ocean
  • Meeting people outside of my comfort zone
  • Learning self-respect
  • Swimming with dolphins
  • Petting a shark
  • Voting, twice
  • Redecorating my home
  • Doing my own therapy hours
  • Going on a road trip
  • Standing up for myself
  • Learning to meditate
  • Going back to France for over 6 months
  • Planning for the future
  • Making time for friends
  • Finding my own “style”
  • Getting a temporary tattoo
  • Creating new traditions
  • Loving endlessly
  • Watching a thunderstorm from above the clouds
  • Finding my favorite book
  • Forgiving

Ironically, none of these things were planned in advance. I never had a “map” of how things should have been for me, or a list of things to do before 30. Thankfully so, because it wouldn’t have gone as planned anyway and I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. Today, I believe that I am exactly where I am supposed to be. Although I am still working on the person I want to become, overtime, I have reached a new level of compassion, love and understanding that I started continually nurturing. Here are a few things that I’ve learned in my short journey on this earth (yes, before 30!) that I wanted to share with you.

 Life has a mind of its own.

Very little things in life go as planned. The probability of all the factors outside of our control aligning to satisfy our needs and wills is not always as high as we attribute it to be. Keeping that in mind, we are left with dreams, hopes and a determination to move forward with our goals. When obstacles appear, what has always helped me was time. Time to breathe, to rethink ideas through, and find alternative ways. The only thing that we need to develop when life gets in the way is patience. Thankfully, things will get in the way of every plan, every idea and every “perfect” solution. After all, that’s one of the ways to get creative and get out of our comfort zone.

Age is just a number – How do you really feel?

We don’t deeply change physically or mentally overnight. We don’t wake up one day feeling “20” or “50”. Numbers are just a way to measure our developmental growth. For me, birthdays have become a way to celebrate milestones, new experiences acquired throughout the year. It’s also a way to plan new goals, to create new relationships and become a better self. So at the end of my birthday, I always ask myself how I feel and what I want the upcoming year to look. If I’m sad or anxious, I ask myself why and what can I do to change?

Always push yourself towards growth.

Growing older is the perfect example of the glass half-full half-empty. We could focus on the negative, as we age and experience anxiety regarding the cycle of life slowly ending or we could look at it as one of the best way of experiencing growth. Aging also means accumulating experience, knowledge and possibilities. Every day that goes by is full of new potential. As we age, our knowledge can lead us to wiser decisions, deeper self- understanding and a greater sense of connection with others. It’s during the process of aging that we understand how important it is to be connected to family members, friends and community. There is always room to grow, no matter how old we become. As of right now, I won’t be planning much. I will live in the present and enjoy my cake, blow my candles and make a wish, hoping that next year, I’ll be a little bit wiser!

When Was The Last Time That You Did Something For The First Time?

When Was The Last Time That You Did Something For The First Time?

People are very open-minded about new things – as long as they are exactly like the old ones. 

Charles Kettering

Saying that we all have busy lives in an understatement. Most people juggle between jobs, school, and never ending family duties without even noticing how time flies. Before realizing it, 5 years have passed by and you don’t remember much of it. A couple of birthdays, Christmas and summer parties, a cousin’s wedding, another’s graduation, that’s how much most of us can recall from our last 5 years. What happened to the rest of the time? Countless evenings, many weekends with friends, family gatherings, favorite TV show finales, sushi date nights, random road trips, funny pictures… Yes, those memories existed. At one point, they even made us very happy. Now, they are buried under a thick layer of daily routines.

Let’s take a second and ask ourselves: when was the last time that we did something for the first time? Whether it was traveling, trying a new restaurant, talking to a stranger, when was the last time that we did something completely new? If you remember it and it wasn’t that long ago, you are lucky! You might be more adventurous than most of us are.

In 2019, I want to challenge myself to do something new every day. I want to take the time to look around me and find 10 ways to replace what I have always done the same way: cooking new food, exploring the city at night, listening to a new genre of music, watching foreign movies, wearing different colors… and the list can go on. New things don’t have to be expensive. They are accessible to all of us, we just need to be aware of what can be done differently to break our daily routine. As my best friend would say, let’s get out of the “cage of normality” for whatever comes out of it will always be dull.

So tomorrow, skip your usual TV show for something new that you have always wanted to do. Find a new itinerary to drive back home after work. Switch the usual radio station for something that your ears are not used to. Meat eaters, try to be vegetarian for a day. Perhaps you can research seasonal fruits and vegetables that you have never tried before. Coffee lovers, try some exotic teas. Do it not because you have to, but because you took the time to think about it and want to. The opportunities are endless and that’s what makes it possible and much fun. Doing things differently will give you the opportunity at the end of the year to say, “yes, I’ve tried it! And quite honestly, you should too.”

I am a Survivor

I am a Survivor

“Armenia is dying, but it will survive. The little blood that is left is precious blood that will give birth to a heroic generation. A nation that does not want to die, does not die”.
Anatole France (1916)

As I was debating whether or not I wanted to make this third blog entry an informational article about the Armenian Genocide, I felt overwhelmed between what I thought people should know about that part of history and how I felt as an Armenian, writing about it a hundred years later. It took me weeks until I finally figured out what I wanted to tell you about my history and the history of many generations before me.
Today, as I’m writing these words, I do not feel sad. I do not feel angry. For a long time, I used to feel pain. I used to feel confused. I used to feel hurt. Hearing terrifying stories from my grandparents, seeing atrocities through films and photos made me so angry, yet very powerless for a sixteen year old who grew up in a household where genocide was almost a synonym for Armenians. As we enter the centennial of the Armenian genocide, it is time to focus on how far we have come.

Today, I feel hopeful. For the first time in years, I feel very powerful. I finally realized that my voice counts. Of course, my voice won’t heal the pain of parents and grandparents who grew up as orphans, nor restore the lands that Armenians lost during their deportation. My voice counts because it exists. A hundred years later, I AM HERE.

Anatole France was right. “A nation that does not want to die, does not die.” I have never felt more alive and ready to share my heritage with the upcoming generations. A hundred years later, Armenians not only exist, but they’ve flourished. For every bit of history they share with the world, the world listens and acknowledges.

I was in college when one of my classmates asked me why there were more Armenians around the world than in Armenia itself. I told him what I believed was the truth: “because my grandparents survived”. The confusion on his face encouraged me to elaborate more: “If my grandparents didn’t survive the genocide, I wouldn’t be here today. I carry that survivor gene, as do all Armenians in the world.” That’s what I had in mind when I started writing this article. I AM A SURVIVOR. I’m not a victim of the genocide, I am a fighter. They tried to exterminate all Armenians hoping that with enough time, nobody would remember them.

As Anatole France predicted, “The little blood that is left is precious blood that will give birth to a heroic generation”. I am part of that heroic generation, as will be my children. That’s the story that I want them to remember.

This April 24th, we will march together, again, so that people can see us, hear us, and realize that no matter how much time has passed, we are still here, we still care, and most importantly, we are still Armenian.

Pin It on Pinterest