How to Listen to Others
It can be difficult to know what to say when a person is pouring their life story out to you.
When someone needs your support, sometimes it is hard to know how to help and you can do more harm than good. Of course, you have good intentions but it can be difficult to know what to say when a person is pouring their life story out to you and you are completely unprepared. Consider this your guide.
It all starts with active listening. You need to really pay attention and not judge them for speaking out. Let them know you are a safe place for them to come to then actually be a safe place. A big part of being a safe place is listening well. Here are some ways you can listen well:
- Don't speak. Just listen. If you have to speak ask a question to clarify and to make sure you understand what they are saying. This will help them feel heard and it will help you better understand the situation.
- Don't give advice. If you have a piece of ground breaking advice that you just need to give, then wait until they are done talking and ask, "Do you want some advice?" If they say no, then they're just going to have to miss out and you are going to have to keep quiet.
- Use your body. Body language is important. Face towards them and lean in a little so they can see you are engaged in the conversation.
- When they are done speaking say things like...
- "I'm so sorry you feel so hurt."
- "Is there anything I can do to help?"
- "I can't imagine what you are going through but I am here for you."
Sometimes you don't even need to speak. Sometimes just being present helps. All you need to do is just sit there with them in silence. But that is only if the situation calls for it.
There are many times when they may ask you for an answer that you don't have and you need to be honest and say, "I don't have an answer and I'm sorry you're so hurt. How can I help?" Don't give them a fluff answer like...
- "Just be more positive."
- "I'm sure things will get better."
- "Have faith."
- "It will all work out in the end."
Those answers do more harm than good because they are detached and seem careless. There is no empathy in them.
Another good thing to ask is if they are seeing a therapist, depending on the severity of the situation.
Also... believe them. When someone comes to you with something hard they are going through, believe them and don't take it as a teachable moment, even if you see a lesson to be learned. YOU may be able to see it. They won't be able to. Don't try to teach them anything when they are an emotional mess because they will not hear it and most likely will get defensive. This is another reason why staying quiet and listening is so important. Even if it is a situation where the person is in the wrong, affirm their feelings. Tell them their feelings are valid. Later, when they are in a better state of mind and not as emotional, then you can sit them down and teach them whatever or tell them gently how you think they may be in the wrong.
Do not use "tough love" on them because tough love works on a case by case basis and you should never use that as a first option. Start by being kind and gentle and then after trying that, depending on the situation and their behavior, tough love may be necessary but DO NOT use it as an excuse to be a bully. I have seen that far too much.
You can make a huge difference in someone's life by following these steps and doing more follow-up research on your own. In some cases, this may save a person's life. You can be a hero to someone by just being compassionate.