I don’t think we are very good at listening .
We jump in , we talk about ourselves , we don’t think , in fact half the time, we don’t really listen .
Sorry if that is a huge fat generalisation , but on a personal level ,I have found it to be true ….and I am just as guilty .
Since Rosie died, my pain is so big ,my heart so broken , that I am very careful who I expose ( in an emotional way ) myself to . I never cease to be shocked by inappropriate comparisons, lack of empathy, the pretence that nothing has happened .It has been a very steep and painful learning curve .
So yesterday these words on the page ,jumped out at me
How to listen to a friend who is down
The first step, Pam the trainer says, is being aware of the barriers. If your friend is feeling low, even expressing sympathy can get in the way. “We think it’s helpful to say, ‘I know exactly what you mean, I went through something similar…’ but that’s you talking about your own feelings, rather than allowing your friend to tell you what it’s like for them. When a person wants to express their pain, your experiences aren’t relevant to them.” A similar, common mistake is to leap to offer advice before being asked. “Giving advice is not listening, and often it’s not helpful,” Pam adds. “It shuts people down. If you feel a responsibility to fix your friend’s problems, relinquish it.”
The hardest habit for some to break was the instinct to turn the conversation round to the positive. It can take a while to understand that if a friend is in a dark place, the most compassionate thing we can do is to climb down into that place and sit with them for a while. “If a person trusts you enough to talk about their distress, trying to cheer them up is like shutting them up – you are dismissing and trivialising their feelings,” Pam says. “Give them the space to say how bad they feel and stay with it. Swerving away from it, talking about a silver lining, can signal you don’t want to hear it.” Focus on your friend and their words. Thinking too much about your responses can be detrimental. “Sometimes, my mind’s whirring and I’m so busy thinking about what to say that I leap ahead,” Pam explains. “So I make a constant effort to calm my mind down and tune into what is being said.”
It is possible, when you know how, to say a lot without saying anything at all. “Just being a calm presence can give someone the trust and confidence to open up to you,” she says. Your body language should look engaged, perhaps leaning forward, and be open to making eye contact but also sensitive to people who might find it unnerving. Adopt a soft, caring voice, but beware, Pam warns: “There’s a fine line between sounding warm and gentle, and sounding patronising and pitying. Don’t talk down to anyone, just show genuine interest.”
Your most important tool, she says, is silence. “Don’t be afraid of silence; learn to hold it. Although it may feel uncomfortable to you, it won’t to them. They’re working through painful thoughts and feelings, so don’t rush them. People will start opening up if you don’t interrupt.”