This is a guest post, from Harriet Cabelly, a life coach and blogger at Rebuild Your Life Coach.
It’s often hard to know what to say to a friend or loved one during his/her trying times. We don’t know the ‘right’ words.
We are uncomfortable with their pain. We feel helpless. And it certainly brings up our own vulnerabilities.
But we cannot ignore a painful situation by saying nothing, for that can make someone feel worse. Having been through my own share of some pretty heavy-duty times, I always appreciated when someone at least acknowledged the difficult time by saying a little something like:
“How are you doing since…..”
“I’m so sorry” or
“I don’t know what to say.”
For even saying this beats saying nothing at all. Some acknowledgement at least shows a connection to a person’s difficulties.
We can be attuned to the other by simply asking:
How can I be here for you?
What can I do for you?
How can I help?
What do you need from me now?
But the best support we can give is by simply listening. ‘Simply’ is the operative word here. The act of listening is no simple task. It requires focus and the ability to put oneself aside. It takes work to really listen.
“Listening looks easy, but it’s not simple. Every head is a world.” Cuban Proverb
So how do we ‘simply’ listen?
- Sometimes we listen by sitting in silence with the other; just being with them in their pain. We are there with them in mind, body and soul, holding and tolerating the heaviness of their suffering.
“Silence is a source of great strength.” Lao Tzu
- Be the vessel into which the person can pour out his pain. Hold it. Hear the feelings behind the words. Connect with that.
“You can practice deep listening in order to relieve the suffering in us and in the other person. That kind of listening is described as compassionate listening. You listen only for the purpose of relieving suffering in the other person.” Thich Nhat Hanh
- It’s about them. Don’t wait for the period at the end of their sentence so that you can jump in with your agenda or personal examples. Let it be all them. It’s not a give and take conversation during such times.
In the book, The Art of Racing in the Rain, by Garth Stein, the narrator dog says, “I never deflect the course of the conversation with a comment of my own. People, if you pay attention to them, change the direction of one another’s conversations constantly….Pretend you are a dog like me and listen to other people rather than steal their stories.”
4.Reflect back and acknowledge their feelings. The greatest soothing ointment for the soul is feeling heard and understood.
“The most basic of all human needs is the need to understand and be understood. The best way to understand people is to listen to them.” Ralph Nichols
We can’t create magic and make problems disappear. We can provide the support and comfort that can minimize some of the ‘aloneness’ one feels in his/her time of need, by Listening.
“If speaking is silver, then listening is gold.” Turkish Proverb
Are you comfortable listening when someone is in pain? Please share in your comments below.