If someone you care about was going through something difficult, would you know how to respond?
Often, its not a lack of care but a lack of knowledge. In this video I’ll show you why ‘just’ listening is so important and why we find it so hard to do. I’ll also share 3 pointers to help to get you better at it, so you can support someone through something you may know nothing about.Watch the video for the full story or scroll down for the notes.
I’m talking about this now because more and more people are sharing their difficult experiences. We’re starting to understand that ignoring or avoiding problems makes them worse. Whether that’s an experience of mental or physical health problems, racism, sexism or any form of discrimination, as well as experiences of trauma and abuse. Talking helps as long as the person we’re talking to knows how to listen.Follow these pointers to improve your skills.
1) GET USED TO DISCOMFORT
As humans we tend towards comfort in all things, including emotional and psychological comfort. We want the people we care about to be okay but ignoring a person when they need to talk won’t make them okay. Listening makes a difference.
Before you can do this fully, you’ll need to understand how you avoid discomfort with others. We all do this in different ways. Do you find yourself changing the subject? Playing with your phone or changing channels on the TV? Or do you automatically jump in to offer solutions and fix?
None of that helps as it can shut the person down. So after you’ve listened (fully), if you still want to say something, “That sounds pretty rough” can be enough.
2) ACCEPT WHAT THEY’RE SAYING
The person will be talking from their own experience and point of view. Allow them to have that. And let their thoughts and feelings be their own. This is particularly important if they differ to yours.
This can be hard because we often want the people closest to us to be in agreement with us, and when they’re not we can feel threatened. But the truth is that person isn’t you. And accepting them as they are doesn’t change the relationship you have with them or how they feel about you. In fact, by allowing people to be themselves will make your relationships stronger and healthier.
3) REASSURE THEM THAT YOU’RE THERE FOR THEM
Let them know you support them and any choices they want to make. Ask if there’s anything you can do. And if there’s something they want to do that you’re concerned about, let them know. But respect their choices, like you’d want them to respect yours.
By following these 3 steps, you’re helping the persons natural ability to be with their own difficulties. If they’re stuck in emotion, your listening could help them get unstuck. They might have a spark of insight or inspiration (their own not yours!). And at the very least, you’re showing them you have confidence and trust in them. Don’t underestimate the importance of that.
Think about what you might need. If we’re going to support others we might need support to. And if it something that feels particularly difficult, reaching out for professional support is always an option.
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