I suck at this. Seriously. Ask anyone.
When your friends come to talk to you about work problems, you sympathize, you agree, you even can offer examples from your own life.
When you hear of a sad event in one of their lives – an illness or a death of someone close to them – you offer sympathy and a shoulder to lean on.
But what about those times when they want to talk for the 500th time about some *sshole they are seeing who keeps making them cry and treating them like crap? That same one who doesn’t want to talk unless it’s convenient for him or he’s bored, the one who starts arguments and then blames your friend for it?
Or maybe she just keeps stringing your friend along, clearly taking advantage of his feelings for her when you know she’s never going to return them, that he’s just being used? And he just doesn’t see it, thinks she’ll eventually come around.
As heartbreaking as all of this is for your friend, it’s actually DAMN frustrating for you. When hour 2 of that same-old conversation begins, you are armed and ready to step in again with your solutions. How they should leave. How she is much better than this guy, he is than that girl. How he should see he’s being used. How she keeps letting herself get hurt.
Let me stop you right there. Think of all those times when you should have listened to reason and you didn’t. When someone was giving you perfect advice, but you couldn’t hear it. We always recall these things once the storm is over and commiserate about how we should have listened to our friends and family. The true teacher, though, is experience. We all know it.
What this means is that you need to just leave your solutions and your thoughts and your opinions at the door when you enter this kind of conversation with your friend. Some people work through their feelings by talking things out; all of your opinions are distracting and actually won’t let them find the release they seek by doing so, nor allow them to come to their own realizations. Similarly, people often don’t know how they really think or feel about something until they say it out loud.
Additionally, your friends are less likely to take your advice because in that moment, they are trying desperately to believe in something that defies logic in a positive and negative way: LOVE. So even if the person in question isn’t deserving of their love, reciprocating it, showing any love, it doesn’t matter. Because that is the lens through which your friend is trying to understand and interpret everything. Love will always take emotional priority over logic – until experience comes along.
Once your friend comes out on the other side of this lackluster relationship, they’ll understand what you were saying all along – %100 money back guaranteed. At that point, they’ll have figured out what they need to, rather than just having to take your word for it. (Here comes the 2-hour conversation where you talk about that now! Lol)
So what should you do? You don’t want your friends to be miserable. You see what’s happening, maybe even know exactly what they should do. However, it’s too easy to say “Just Listen” – that’s what we are struggling to do, right?
Well, struggle no more! See below for strategies on how to “just listen”.
How to Be the Friend who “Just Listens”:
- Stop thinking about what you would do about the situation. This means you aren’t fully listening anyway.
- On the other hand, don’t zone out. Try to hear what it is they are really saying – it’s not always about the surface details they are giving you.
- Listen for opportunities to ask questions that may help them really articulate their feelings and concerns. Asking questions rather than making statements will let them know that you understand that they may just want to talk it out.
- Let them ask you for advice rather than offering it.
- Provide validation when applicable – “That’s terrible”, “Not cool”, nod your head to show understanding, etc.
- Be vocal in empathizing/sympathizing every now and then – “I know what you mean” “I’ve been there”, “Oh no” etc.
- Be sincere when doing 5 & 6 – if you can’t, just listen and nod while looking at them.
I personally have to work very hard on this. I am definitely the type to come in, guns blazing, with all of my answers and knowledge and opinions. You already know if you are that type, too. Trust me, though, these tips don’t just benefit your friends, they benefit you, as well. It’s hard to leave such a conversation feeling satisfied if you just want to fix it for your friend, but you can’t. At least in this way, you can exit knowing that you did what your friend needed and wanted, and that’s all you were responsible for – they are responsible for their happiness and how they enable it to grow or hinder it.
Small side note: None of this applies if your friend is in a relationship that is remotely abusive in anyway or may be dangerous to their mental or physical health. Do everything in your power – tactfully – to provide them with the appropriate resources, help, and support.
What are some of your tips and tricks for being a good listener? What do you want from your friends when you need them to “just listen”? Leave a comment below!
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