Listening and Support is all some people need

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As the holiday season is upon us, I can only think about all of the people who will have relationship issues. Not large issues but enough for them to want to vent to someone else. Well if I haven’t learned anything else in this journey to becoming a better person and friend, it is that sometimes people just want you to listen to them and support them. Now this sounds really easy, but it is not as easy as it sounds.

Think about the part in Waiting to Exhale, when they were all sitting around talking about their problems with men and how none of them were judgmental (maybe because they had been drinking) but they were listening and supportive (in their own way). Sometimes all we want to do is offer advice instead of listening to what the person has to say. Sometimes you just need to vent to people, because you don’t want to say something to the person that upset you.  It is sometimes better to vent to other people, instead of just getting upset about everything. It may not be as large of an issue as it appears. 

So how can we go against our natural instinct and just listen and offer support? I have two suggestions. First, when someone is having a problem let them talk without interrupting them with what you think and what they should do. You will need to give them some cues that you are listening such as nodding, eye contact and the occasional “yes”, “um-huh”. For some of us (women), this is easier because we do it more often than men.  It is okay to interrupt, but only if you need clarification. It is not okay if you want to offer your opinion and the person is not finished explaining the situation.  Also, try to listen mindfully and don’t let your thoughts wander.  You may think people don’t know when you are not listening, but don’t you remember that time when someone was pouring their heart out to you and you weren’t listening and they asked you what you think and you didn’t have an answer or gave the wrong response. People DO know when you are not listening and it is quite insensitive to not listen. Plus, it is easy for you to think about other things when people are talking but do you like when people are not listening to you but instead are thinking about other things. I don’t think you like it, so don’t do it to other people.

Second piece of advice that I have is, be supportive. Now this can come in different ways. You can be supportive by recalling the incident and saying that whatever decision they make you are there for them. Now if you think what they are doing is not right, then say so, but be sure to tell them why you don’t agree with it. Don’t assume they should understand because if they did, then you wouldn’t be having the conversation. You can also be supportive by offering a different outlook on the situation. Now this does not mean you need to tell them what they need to do, but instead you can offer them a different perspective on the situation. This includes saying that you understand their point of view and if you don’t have them explain it further. Once you let it be known that you understand their point of view, they may not take your advice and may even become angry, but that is just an initial reaction for some people. Then you can offer a different outlook and explain it. Depending on who you are talking to (woman or man) they may expect a different type of support.  

I know this advice seems so simple, but sit back and recall the last time someone spilled their heart out to you and you did not try to tell them what they should do. You probably don’t have to think hard about the situation. Just know that listening and being supportive is what most people need not judgmental and a pity party. 

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