Many of us feel like we are good listeners, we listen when people talk. we think of something that happened to us to relate it back to and we explain our similar experience that we had, thinking that we have been an effective listener…and maybe we have…partly.
Often times when people vent to us, we listen partially, but right away our mind goes to a similar experience and we kinda wait for them to finish talking and then we tell our story. But that’s not really active listening. We have all done it and do it and it doesn’t mean that we are not a good listener. But if someone says to us, ‘Man, this was a rough day!’ Some will be inclined to say, ‘You have no idea, I….’ or ‘You think your day was bad, I…’ or ‘I know, right? I….’ So, that’s awesome that you can relate to having a bad day, but usually if someone mentions something, it’s because they need to talk about it. Not necessarily, to hear a similar story or to even find a solution. But just to talk, to relate to another individual about what they are going through, feeling and experiencing. If when your friend say’s, ‘Man, this was a rough day!’ You say, ‘Really, what happened?’ And you just listen, you don’t try to relate it back to yourself, you just listen to what they are saying. How that must have made them feel, what they said, or did, how their reaction made them feel. Were they happy with it? The outcome? Did they wish they did or said something else or something different? What happened next? Was there ever closure? Do you see? How that is much more helpful than just instantly talking about yourself and relating it back to something similar that you experienced? After your friend has vented to the best of their ability and you have exhausted all angles, maybe then, it would be ok, to say, ‘I know, I too, was once in a similar situation and I felt this way…’ The thing is, sometimes when people talk, they don’t really want a solution, they just want to talk and feel like someone heard them.
I went to a Retreat a while back and in the beginning of it, in circle, they advised that we only offer a solution after we ask the person sharing if they are looking for a solution. I hadn’t really considered that one, much…I am a problem solver, when a friend tells me of a problem, the first thing I do, is try to come up with a solution! That’s not active listening! I am immediately sorting through details and possibilities and feasibility. Sometimes, I don’t even need to hear the rest, I’ve already got a solution! But had I ever considered that maybe my friend just wanted to vent? Sure…but I still had a solution…
So, the next time our friend wants to talk, or even a customer, (I have that happen alot,) or even a person we’re waiting in line next to that is oversharing. Instead, of going through our life history as they speak trying to find a story that we can relate it to, let’s really listen with our hearts, hear the deeper meaning, the underlying message, make them feel like we really understand what their experience was and how it made them feel. And if we can clearly see a solution, ask, ‘Are you looking for a solution,’ before we just offer one.