I was doing a big ‘download’ recently with a friend. I seemed to have a jumble of problems that I needed to name out loud. At first he offered a suggestion to each thing I said: “Have you tried this…” or “It could help if you …”
Each time he said something I would say: “Yes, I’ve tried that” or “that’s unlikely to help because…” I began to feel tense and realised that he wasn’t helping. He was trying too hard to fix things and that made him feel helpless as well.
Then he got it. “Oh”, he said,
“I just need to listen and not try to fix things for you”.
At that, we both relaxed. I was able to keep telling my story and he didn’t have to try and fix me. We continued to have a very good time together. I felt heard, understood and accepted. He didn’t feel responsible for how I felt but appreciated what some of my problems were, and like a true friend, was simply there with me.
Good listeners don’t try to change other people. They first of all just be there with them. That allows the other person be themselves and talk about concerns they have at that moment.
You can be a good listener with colleagues, direct reports, friends and family members.