Being a good listener

Why is it easier to solve someone else’s problems than it is to even think about our own?  And, why are people always offering solutions to the problems of others instead of just listening and being a sympathetic ear?

Not trying to fix someone else’s problems can feel wrong, as if you’re not being the best friend, spouse, parent, or person even. Isn’t it what you should be doing to try to help?

Image Priscilla Du Preez

It can be hard to just listen because it can feel like you are just accepting the status quo. Not chiming in can feel like you’re just hearing a series of complaints about something and not offering solutions can be very hard especially if your own instinct is to look for a positive angle or direction.

But, to the person sharing the problem, having solutions thrown back at them can feel patronising and the solutions too simplistic. The listener can’t assume that they know the background of the issue and that everything about the problem is being shared with them. This is usually not the case.  

Having your problems ‘solved’ so easily by a well-meaning friend can undermine feelings of self worth and self-confidence especially if you haven’t even asked for help. Sometimes your personal energy and mental resources just can’t fathom many of the possible solutions being offered up. It can leave you feeling even worse instead of comforted.

Image Clem Onojeghuo

The thing to remember for the listener is to be a sympathetic ear and before you just start blurting out any possible solutions, ask. Ask your friend if the issue is something they are looking for some help with. If the answer is yes, the next question is to ask what possible solutions that they’ve already thought of.

Most people will know their own best path and will work their way to it if given a bit of space to talk through their ideas. A good friend can offer encouragement and suggestions without judgement.

Sometimes an objective observer can offer some valuable insights. When we are looking at our own problems we can sometimes be blinded to the whole picture. It’s like looking at our selves in a mirror. We only see a flat two-dimensional image. We can’t see what’s on our back or how we look from behind. Our friends see us very differently. They see us in three-dimensions. They can walk around behind us and see the stain on the back of our shirt or how good we look.  Sometimes this outsider’s view of the situation can provide a different way of thinking about the problem that can lead to an improvement or, in fact, a solution.

Image Brad Lloyd

Don’t forget too that a situation is only a problem if you think it is. Others may not see the situation as a problem at all.

I guess to be a good listener the trick is to do just that. Listen. Right through. Then ask the person what they think the best possible outcome could be for them and if they were looking for some help or ideas.

What do you think?

Megan Ruffino
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