How many times has a friend or loved one come to you with a problem, issue or life situation wanting to just vent, and the Dr. Phil in you rises up to “fix” them or their problem and give unwanted advice? Guilty.
I think by nature we want to fix things and put in our “2 cents” so that we can feel like we contributed or brought some relief to our friend in some way. In short, we want to help, but sometimes over-talking or interjecting advice where it’s not necessarily wanted can do more harm than good. Sometimes a friend really just wants you to LISTEN. Not easy, especially if you have more of a “fixer” personality. But it’s possible to do.
Practice listening. Many times our friends or family members really just want a sounding board. And if they DO want advice or your opinion, they’ll usually come right out and ask you. But, even if they do, tread carefully…unless they tell you to “bring it”, at which point you can let loose and go into your unprofessional diagnosis of their problem. Still…be careful. Think how you’d want someone to “bring it” to you. Make sure it’s seasoned with “love”. 🙂
I’ve become fairly good listener. But, I’m continuously working at it. Sometimes people just need your compassion or your presence. You know how when someone’s talking to you, you’re having a second conversation in your head simultaneously? All of your unfiltered opinions and reactions are unbridled in this “head” conversation. RESIST the urge to blab out your opinion. Instead, really listen to the person who’s talking. Try to empathize. When judgemental thoughts arise, push them back down, and just listen. If you’re hearing something that you know is particularly bad or harmful for that person, still just listen. Let them get it all out. Remember to engage the person while they’re talking to you. Look into their eyes, or give the occasional heart-felt “yeah” or “uh huh” or “really?” Give a nod of the head and let your facial expression show that you care. Be genuinely interested. If talking on the phone, they cannot see your face, but give verbal affirmations that you’re listening to let them know you’re there and engaged in what they’re saying. Nine times out of ten, once the person has vented, they’ll want some kind of input. Begin gently with your input and try to gauge how much feedback the person wants, needs or can handle. Sometimes you’ll know instantaneously how much feedback is desired. Sometimes the person may shut down or block you out if you’re saying something they’re not ready to hear. If that happens, back off. Maybe at a later time the environment will be more conducive for more in-depth conversation.
One last thing. If you have a friend who can talk to you for hours and hours on end and wear you down to a puddle of mush by the time they’re done talking, protect yourself. Lol. You want to be there for that friend, but, you also know that if you let them, bless their hearts, they would keep you in the conversation (on the phone or in person) for hours and hours rehashing the same details over and over. Yet, you care for them and desire to “be there” for them. Set a time parameter. Tell them you have “x” number of minutes to talk, up front. When that time comes around, interject with kindness in your voice and let them know you have to go, but would be available later or perhaps you can talk to them via Instant Messenger or text or on a particular day that YOU specify. Sometimes “listening” via IM is an option. It gives the person a chance to write out the problem (which can sometimes help on both ends – the talker’s and the listener’s). And with writing you have to take a bit more care and be more thoughtful as typed words don’t share the emotion behind them. Stick to the point. If your friend’s main gripe is that they have an issue with a coworker, but, they keep wandering into other topics, as you’re listening, keep that main topic in mind. If/when they ask for your input, OR when your time limit has come and you have to end the conversation, focus on the main issue. Be warm, yet succinct. Get right to the root of the issue with your input (with compassion). Hopefully this will prevent further wandering from the main topic at hand. And if you’re chatty friend wants to discuss ‘war and peace’, gently yet firmly remind them that you have to go, but suggest that perhaps you’d could further your conversation on the next topic of choice on another occasion. Hope these hints are helpful.
Have a great day!