Wednesday, October 5, 2011

the power of listening

Have you ever gone to someone horribly upset and found that everything that they said just made it worse? I certainly have, and I have often found myself in the reverse situation: upsetting someone who had come to me for help.

I was terrified when my loved one went through a breakup last week. Absolutely terrified. Because I have never been in a breakup and I had no way of understanding what she was going through. And so rather than giving out my usual array of advice and condolences, I had no idea what to say to her. Nothing. What could I say?

And so instead, for the first time ever, I shut my mouth and simply listened. I listened to everything that she had to say, the stories that she told ten times not because she had forgotten that she had told them, but because she needed to tell them ten times. I nodded and smiled, hugged her when she needed it, and did not try to understand because I knew that I couldn't.

And I helped. At least, I think/hope I did. More than I usually do.

And it hit me. How eager we all are to put in our two cents, to bring up similar situations that we have been in and pretend that they are the same. Pretend that we have someone amazing insight that the person who is actually living it does not have.

When I am upset, unless I ask for advice, I don’t want. When I am confiding in someone, I don’t want them to start talking about themselves and acting like an expert about my situation. I want them to listen to me. That is it. They don’t need to say anything; they just need to listen in way that shows that they care.

So if your friend comes to confide in you, no matter how big or small their problem is, simply let them. Hug or comfort them if they need it. And let them know that they are loved, and that you will always be there for them.

16 comments:

ChinkyGirLMeL said...

Sometimes, we don't need the advice of other people, not even from those we love. Sometimes we just need a listening ear and someone to hug. Listening can be so powerful, it's nice to know that someone is listening to your pain, not just listening intently with a good ear but listening with the heart.

Eleanor at Mirror Of My World said...

very true. :) listening is so important. hope you are well my love xxx

ellie said...

Listening is totally a great thing. Like you said, that's all you can do.

I had one friend who would repeat back what I had said to her. However, I didn't realize at the time she thought I was suicidal. She didn't tell me this until some time later. I was shocked. I had no idea how I even sounded over a break up.

lucy and sarah said...

I really am glad you posted about this. A great way to nurture your friendship. Listening.

Anna said...

I think people need to be listened to way more than they need advice, they only really want your advice if they ask for it. I have a friend who is in an upsetting situation which I think is mostly of her own making (sounds harsh but it's true), and when she needs to talk I find just listening is by far the best tactic because if I opened my mouth to give 'advice' I'd just end up upsetting her more. I feel like saying 'for god's sake, what the hell are you even doing?' but I just listen and nod and say, 'it must be so hard for you, babe' and she seems more than happy with that!
X

Hazel said...

Listening is a huge part of comforting someone. It's funny how we need to tell the same stories over and over again though. I'm the same when I'm upset or annoyed!

Katie said...

I just had a conversation with my partner about listening. I find that if women are sad and share this with men, then men just want to jump in and solve everything. I think more times than not, we just want someone to hear us out and empathize with us.

♥ Kaylan said...

this is so true. i have a big problem with not knowing when to shut my mouth. i require people giving me the 'ole 'zip it' sign. thank you for this. listening is so important and i too often forget. :)

kimbirdy said...

yup, that's rule number one as a therapist {ok, confidentiality is rule number one... as well as having no judgment...}. a lot of people think therapy is going to someone for advice, but therapists {good therapists at least} don't give advice at all. we just listen. we empathize and understand. for an observer it may look like nothing is happening, but for someone in pain, fear, etc. having someone take the time to really see and hear them, without judging them, is the most powerful thing. it's healing, in fact. people go to therapy because it's so rare to find other people in their lives who really truly listen, just listen. so thank you for sharing this today.

Deidre said...

Ahhh, and here is the difference between men and women, I think we often just want someone to listen to us and commiserate or ask questions to make us talk about it, but boys just want to fix the problem. I get so upset at Inspector Climate when he tries to solve my problems when really all i want him to do is listen.

SJ said...

there's nothing worse then when the listenter somehow turns the story around and it becomes about them. i have a friend who has a bad habit of doing that and it drives me nuts!
so you're completely right, sometimes you just need to sit and listen and give your undivided attention.

Bonnie said...

This is why the listening class that my university offers is so important. Most people think that hearing and listening are the same things. They aren't. Not even close.

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nancy said...

:) thank you.

The Book Florist said...

That is so so so so true! I feel like that a lot with my friends - that I can't say anything that would help them feel any better. Everytime you blog, you surprise me with how amazingly you have managed to grasp truths like this. Listening is so simple that it's often avoided, but it often makes a ten times greater difference, and is more sincere.

Poppies and Sunshine said...

Another amazing post! Your writing is always spot on. I have a hard time finding a balance of wanting to help and give advice and just listening. I guess I always want to fill in times of silence with "well when this happened to me I....". I should practice just listening and being more than trying to fix everything.

Brandi {not your average ordinary} said...

I was asked recently in a job interview how I would handle conflicts with colleagues. I told them: I would listen. Conflict so often arises when people aren't listening to each other.

We really just need someone to listen to us sometimes, we need to express how we feel without judgment. I think you handled the situation so well. Sometimes, after a bad breakup, it helps to know there are others out there who love us -- that gives people so much hope.