We Need You to Listen
Thank you for sticking with me these past 5 weeks as I’ve told you all the things you’re doing wrong. If you’re still with me, treat yourself to a cookie. 🙂
Today I’m starting the second half of this series by writing about the first thing that hurting people DO need from family & friends:
We need you to listen.
This should come as no surprise, as I have actually been talking about this all along. Hurting people just need someone to listen to them.
- Listen without giving advice.
- Listen without giving them a self-help assignment.
- Listen without turning their problem into your profit.
- Listen without an agenda.
I know just listening can be hard to do, especially when you care and want to help. It can also be hard because it makes for a really one-sided conversation.
I get it. One-sided conversations can be awkward.
I should smile so they know I care… but not too much… I don’t want them to think I am happy about them being sad.
Wow, this is a lot of eye contact. Is it ok to look away for a second? My eye is itchy!
What should I be doing with my hands?
I think this is right about where well-meaning people stumble in to advice-giving or talking about themselves. They don’t necessarily mean to, they just don’t know what else to say!
I have some good news. You don’t actually have to say anything.
One of the first skills in Active Listening1 is to become comfortable with silence, and to not fill silence.
Silence is really helpful sometimes because it lets the speaker take a moment to collect their thoughts without someone changing the subject on them.
It also gives what they have just said some “weight”. Some things truly are “heavy,” and deserve some time before rushing off. It’s ok to sit with what has been said for a few moments.
The Christian Bible and Jewish Torah both have a story about this:
There was a man who had it all, and lost it all in one day. All of his herds and camels were slaughtered or stolen by raiders, and all ten of his adult children were killed when the building they were in collapsed. Then, to make matters worse, the man himself was struck with a painful skin disease. It altered his appearance so greatly that his friends could barely recognize him.
Soon after, three friends arrived to comfort him, but when they saw the horrible reality of the situation, they chose not to speak. They sat down beside him, and did not say a word for seven days and seven nights.2
Don’t be afraid of silence. In my opinion, there isn’t enough of it in this world.
That said, there will be opportunities to speak when you are listening to a friend. So when the conversation does require you to speak up, remember to avoid advice, sharing a story of your own, ranting, or preaching. Turn it back to the speaker.
Try one of the phrases below.
And then what happened? or And how did he/she take that? (Ask open-ended questions to encourage them to speak.)
So, in other words… (Sum up what they have said, to show that you were listening, and to allow them to correct any misperceptions you have.)
Tell me more about that part. I want to understand. (Help them feel heard and cared for.)
I can see why you’re so upset. I would feel the same if it happened to me. (Show empathy.)
What would you say to him/her now if you had the chance? (Encourage them to reflect and dig deeper.)
This couldn’t have been easy to talk about. Thank you for trusting me enough to share. (Comfort and validate them, after they have been vulnerable.)
What is something you wish a friend would say (or not say) when you are sharing your problems? Let me know in the comments.
© 2021 Ashley Lilley – First time commenting? Please read my Comment Policy.