It’s never too late to admit that you make mistakes in managing a discussion with a friend or family member who comes to confess to you. Listening in the right way and asking the right questions can make her feel supported during the conversation. Yet, this sounds easier than it actually is.
When a friend or a family member opens up to me about her problems, I am inclined to chime in with my brilliant suggestions. I get excited that I know how to fix her problems. After all, “I know what she’s taking about, I’ve been going through the very exact experience!”
It took me half of a lifetime to understand that such thinking is a big mistake because it keeps a dear person from opening up to you.
It’s wrong to believe you understand your friend’s predicament. It’s wrong to believe you know exactly how she feels.
When you get confident that you know what’s her problem, you start listening only to the words.
But if you want to be helpful, you’d rather start by admitting that you can never know how a loved one feels about a particular situation. You may have experienced a similar problem. You may have a great connection with her. Despite all that, your subjective realities are different. You relate to people and the surrounding reality in your unique way.
Therefore, it’s safer to assume that you don’t know how she feels. You can only guess but keep it in mind that that’s only your perspective.
If you want to understand better her perspective, you need to empty your mind about your own experiences and points of view and listen as if you were born yesterday. This way you can refrain from giving advice. Even the advice based on the best intentions, puts the other one in defence and she’ll be even further from finding a solution to her problem.
Sometimes the advice can be said in a judgmental tone, which may make the other one feel belittled or disregarded, and ultimately not interested in continuing the discussion.
Instead, practice the best empathic listening that your emotional intelligence can allow. More important than the words that she’s using, the key to tuning into her feelings is to understand why she is telling those words.
When you understand the feelings that underlie the spoken words, you are able to ask questions that can help the dear one figure the problem out by herself.
Therefore, it’s crucial for an effective help to be careful with what kind of questions you ask. For example, when she tells you, “I am so tired to work long days.” instead of saying, “Why do you work so much then?”, it’s better to ask, “I believe it is tiring to work long days.” By repeating the words that the other one just said, you lay the foundation for empathic dialogue.
The latter affirmation is supportive of the frustration feeling and signals to her that you are willing to listen.
Since you can never know how another person feels, the least you can try is to understand what kind of emotions the other one experiences related to a particular issue. Asking empathic questions may help the other one feel she is not alone in times of trouble.
If you are clumsy with words or if your best listening does not seem to help, you can ask sincerely, “I’d like to help you, so please show me how I can do that.”
Being humble in relationships is not a sign of weakness or vulnerability, but a sign that you care about the other person and you want to build a strong and authentic relationship.
In the end, it may turn out that the best support you can provide is to be there with all your being. After all, the deepest relationship is when you can sit in silence and feel the harmony between your souls.
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