As you probably know by now, in 2013 I lived through the diagnosis, treatment and recovery of the severe illness of my partner and father of my children.
Like many other people, I know how much the whole process consumes you. You’re exhausted, you’re stressed, you’re emotionally broken, you’re scared, yet you have to stay strong and keep going for the sake of those who need you.
While people rally around and do all they can, sometimes, all you need is just for someone to listen while you vent out your anger, frustrations and fear.
People like to be practical, but while helpful and delicious, all the casseroles in the world won’t make up for the power that having a good rant does to someone going through a tough situation either physically or emotionally.
Unfortunately, these days everyone has a lot going on, and with so many distractions around, listening isn’t always something that people are good at.
If you’ve got someone standing in front of you giving clear signs that they need to have a chat; regardless of how well you know them, here are four ways you can be a better listener. While you might not be able to help their situation, listening well will help them feel better and more able to cope with what’s going on in their life.
It’s so easy to say ‘oh, I know, I’ve been there’ or try to guess how their story ends. While empathising is an excellent way to help someone feel better and realise they’re not on their own; wait until they’ve finished. If you jump in too quickly, you’ll likely make their pain all about you which isn’t going to help. Wait until they’ve finished and, if it’s appropriate, give practical advice on what you’ve done in similar situations you’ve encountered in the past.
2) Be present.
If someone’s chosen to talk freely with you, ignore you beeping phone and flashing notifications. If you’re expecting an urgent call, where possible pre-warn them, otherwise interrupting them shows that you’re prioritising the person on the other end of the phone over them which isn’t going to help at all. Avoid all distractions and focus entirely on the person in front of you.
3) Go for a walk.
If you’re going through a hard time and need to talk, it can be hard to sit in front of someone and divulge possibly confidential information. Offering to go for a walk takes away the pressure of trying to find the right words and will put someone in a comfortable setting where you can always discuss something trivial like your surroundings if they can’t find the words they need.
4) Ask questions.
If someone’s struggling to find the right words to say to you, don’t change the subject, instead, ask questions. Use the basis of what you know about their situation (which might not be much) to gently probe them into opening up further. If you ask questions, they’ll know you’re genuinely interested and will be more comfortable baring their soul.
On any given day, we can ask ten people how they are going without actually stopping to listen to their answer. By following these few simple tips, you’ll forge stronger connections, provide a shoulder of support where it’s needed most, and help someone feel better about their situation possibly changing the whole course of their day.
Trust me, I know, and I couldn’t have more appreciation for the people who listened to me when I needed them the most!