November 9, 2022
How to active listen over text

What’s up with texting? Why is it so hard to interpret people?The answer lies in active listening. Active listening is what allows us to get better at reading and understanding how people communicate, and it can be just as beneficial for texting as it is for in-person conversations.

How to active listen over text 

We’ve all been there before: you get a mysterious text from a friend about something that happened, and you’re not sure how to feel about it. According to the “rules” of texting, everything points toward them being upset (short sentences, lots of periods, no emojis…). 

But are they actually mad, or are they just a serious texter? 

It goes the other way around, too. You’ve probably shot off a meaningless text that ended up getting misinterpreted. Asking someone to dinner might’ve been misconstrued as a date, or sending a quick message between work projects might’ve made your best friend think you were mad at them. 

What’s up with texting? Why is it so hard to interpret people?

The answer lies in active listening. Active listening is what allows us to get better at reading and understanding how people communicate, and it can be just as beneficial for texting as it is for in-person conversations.  

How to active listen over text 

Active listening over text doesn’t have to be harder than in-person speech. Consider the following advice, and with a little luck, you and your friends will never misinterpret another message again.

Start by using the extra tools texting provides 

No, texting doesn’t give you the same kinds of visual and audio cues that a face-to-face conversation provides. Despite that, there’s so many other tools that texting does offer that people don’t tend to use. 

If a conversation is hard to make sense of, try using a combination of emojis, images and GIFs to show your mood and intent. Another great tool that most people don’t use is voice-to-speech messages — you can simply record your message by tapping the microphone button and let someone know exactly what you’re thinking. 

Don’t read into “texting rules”

Yes, we all know ending a text with a period means we’re pissed off…

Or do we? When you’re texting somebody new, don’t assume they follow the exact same “texting rules” that you do. Who knows? Maybe they hate using emojis because they think they look immature. Or maybe they over-use exclamation points because they find it funny. Or maybe they’re a fan of proper sentences, and that’s why they finish every text with a period. 

The point is that everyone has their own set of texting rules, and trying to guess someone else’s isn’t going to help you at all. Instead, focus on the content of their message, and don’t guess at their intent until you can ask them about it over the phone or in person. 

Follow the “flow” of the conversation

It can be hard to actively listen over text if someone in the conversation isn’t giving it their all. We all know what that looks like: one word responses, vague messages, one text a day… 

But when texting, you’re going to get better results if you follow the flow of the conversation. If someone is giving you one- or two-word responses, don’t send them paragraphs back. Instead, tell them you’ll talk more when you see them next, or set up plans to meet in person. That way, you won’t build up resentment or frustration for a less-than-stellar text exchange, and you’ll be able to connect more naturally with someone who might not be a great texter. 

Conversely, if someone is giving you thoughtful, in-depth responses to your messages, try to match their interest. You don’t have to take hours out of your day to respond, but giving someone the same care and attention they’ve given you will open the door to better, more solid communication between the both of you. 

Check your story at the door 

Before you get carried away wondering what a text means, it’s important to check your story at the door. That means forgetting anything you’ve previously thought about the person you’re talking to. Don’t focus on whether or not they’re a bad texter, a flaky friend, or that they didn’t remember to tell you congrats on the new job… 

Why? Because all of those things get in the way of truly listening to someone. After all, how can you understand what someone has to say if you’re remembering the last time they insulted you? Take it from us: texting without bias leads to better texting. 

Encapsulate, encapsulate, encapsulate

The last active listening tip on this list involves capturing the essence of what others have texted you in order to really understand them. When texting someone, listen to what they have to say, and then encapsulate what they’ve told you. Here are some ways to start a conversation like that:

  • “So am I right to believe that…”
  • “What you’re saying is…”
  • “Am I right to believe that…”
  • “This is what I got out of what you just said. Do I have that right, or no?”

The goal here is not to get it right immediately. Instead, encapsulating works because it forces you to verify whether or not you understood what the other person meant. If that means revising the story several times, then that’s okay. The goal is to continue to work through what someone’s told you until they say you’ve got it “exactly right.”

Texting better starts with listening better 

Better texting doesn’t have to be impossible. In fact, just like active listening, it’s a learned skill. By implementing each of these tactics and making an effort to listen to what others have to say, you’ll dramatically improve your ability to text others clearly and with confidence. 

Curious to know more? Shoot us a text and we’ll talk.

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