I have. Now, like you, I’ve also had situations where friends have said how much better they feel after talking to me, other situations where I have no idea what to say other than “that sucks.”
Sometimes as listeners, we want so much to hear what our friends are saying that we start becoming the ones that talk. We ask internal questions to ourselves instead of listening. Does my friend want reassurance, or just a human sounding board, or maybe they’re looking for an opinion. Forget what they want, maybe they NEED a slap back into reality!
Sometimes that slap back into reality is what they need but they just aren’t ready for it. I know sometimes that’s the real reason I’ve called a friend. I don’t really want your advice on what I should have done, I want you to assure me that what I did was the only thing that could have and should have been done!
So what are you supposed to do??
First and foremost, listening is an active process versus hearing someone. You need your full attention to do it properly, and most commonly a process called mirroring forms. This is where you summarize or reiterate what someone has told you. This gives the speaker a sense of truly feeling heard. It makes them feel like what they’re saying matters. Mirroring happens organically…it’s not really something you have to think of doing; however if you consciously do it, (as long as you don’t sound like a computer or tape recorder), you’ll see how powerful it is. This by far, along with empathy, are the two most powerful tools to being a good listener and helping your friend heal.
The second point I’ve learned, through psychology classes and my own experience, is that it’s absolutely OKAY not to know what your friend needs. Some people need reassurance. Others need your real, cold, opinion (also known as the truth). And yet others need to do the talking and have you silent on the phone. Unless you know the person really well, it can be hard to know what they want. And even if you do know them, sometimes they may want something different depending on what stressful situation they’re talking about. The best thing you can do after actively listening and being empathetic (which is most important), is to simply ask what they need if you’re unsure. It’s okay to ask, and it actually can make your friend feel that much more special that you care enough to ask. You are human, after all.
The truth is, however, no matter what a friend actually wants you to say, at the end of it all, the most important thing is that you’re there to say something. Social support is a human need that’s often overlooked because emotional bonds are less tangible than water, food or shelter. But the reason we as a species have been so successful (evolutionarily speaking), is because of our herd-like nature. Those social bonds are so important, and at the core of these bonds is simple active listening.
Dr. Rahim Kanji
Dr. Rahim Kanji is a Naturopathic Doctor practicing in Toronto, Canada. He has a passion for evidence-based natural medicine, specifically empowering his patients to make nutritional changes which create dramatic impacts to their health. For more information, visit his website at www.rahimkanjind.com.