Have you ever needed to sort through a problem or share a heavy emotional load with another person, but felt like there was no way to do that, without having to receive another set of opinions, perspectives, or advice that would probably just complicate the issue? So, then you just wind up rolling things over and over in your mind, but feel kind of alone, confused, and like you’re not really getting anywhere?!
Sometimes we need a fresh perspective, a new direction, or some recommendations.
Sometimes we just need someone to listen. Did you know that most people won’t naturally assume that’s what you want? Which means… you’re probably going to have to ask for it. (And then you’ll often need to ask again! Or remind the listener – halfway through the conversation – that you just need him or her to listen.)
Rather than just launching into a discussion of something that’s troubling you, expecting the other person to NOT give advice, try paving the way with a short intro:
“I’m upset and need to talk. Do you have a little time? I’m not looking for advice; can you just listen?”
“I have a problem and I need to figure out what to do. I already have plenty to consider and don’t really need more input right now … I’d just like to talk through it out-loud.”
Now, a good friend who is a great listener (and is available) will say, “Yes, absolutely, go ahead!” And so, you’ll begin sharing… and your good friend will probably try very hard to listen without advising or offering opinions. For about 3 minutes. And then, your friend may forget, and interrupt you. What then?? You might have to address the interruption and remind your friend about what you need!
“Wait a second, I’m not quite finished yet,” addresses the interruption. Then, “Remember? – just listen!”
Other options are:
- “I wasn’t finished. Can you please hear me out?”
- “I feel like this is important to process. I’m so thankful that our relationship is safe enough and strong enough for me to unpack this. Can I keep going?”
- “I’m having a hard time putting words to it. I know I’m slow at this but I want to express it. Can I keep trying?”
If you are the listener, and the speaker doesn’t specifically state the need, before jumping to advice-giving, it’s best to ask, “Would you like me to just listen? Or would you like me to ask some questions or offer my thoughts?”
The next time someone is speaking to you, check your own ability to listen without offering advice or opinions.
Likewise, notice the next time someone responds to you with advice instead of listening. Spend some time paying attention to what prevented you or the other person from being able to listen without interrupting.
(Adapted from “The Lost Art of Listening: How Learning to Listen Can Improve Relationships” by Michael Nichols, 2009.)
Mindy Pierce, MA , LPC
MPierce @ GROWCounseling.com