Listening without fixing-Helping Those who Are Hurting by Irene Renteria
“I love the Lord because he has heard my voice and my pleas for mercy. Because he inclined his ear to me, therefore I will call on him as long as I live” (Psalm 116:1-2).
Are you a fixer? When a loved one comes to you for emotional support, do you try and share what you think would be a good solution to their problem? It is normal to feel uneasy when someone we love is in pain. A typical response would be to try and find a way to make them feel better. Thus the race to find a way to fix it begins.
An opportunity to create intimacy.
Hearing someone is easy, but truly listening is difficult. Situations, where one person is seeking support from another, is an opportunity to create emotional intimacy and connection, but trying to fix it becomes a roadblock. The intention is good, we want to help our loved one feel better, but instead of feeling heard and loved, our loved one goes away feeling the opposite.
When our loved ones have a problem, and especially when the problem is with us, it can provoke anxiety and unpleasant emotions in us as well. When your loved one expresses negative emotions, are you guilty of becoming defensive, or trying to fix it? Me too. But guess what, now is the right time to learn good communication and listening skills.
Good listening requires patience. Poor listening feels like rejection. Good listening feels like an embrace, while good listening flows from a humble heart. It is an act of love that is not self-seeking, but it is patient and kind. It uses questions intended to truly understand how the other person feels. Good listening diffuses emotions, provides an avenue for release and ministers to their soul.
Because you are in a hurry to fix it, you may be neglecting to provide them with what they really want, the opportunity to be and feel heard.
“Be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger” (James 1:19).
6 Steps to Become a Good Listener
1st) You need to know your job. Your job is to listen. You are the doorman to the conversation. When a loved one expresses a negative emotion, your only job is to listen to them, and express to them that you care and that you understand them. Unless they specifically ask for your input, your job is to keep being a doorman, by holding the door to the conversation open. You are not a fixer, you are a doorman, and you keep the door open for them to share.
2nd) Embrace the power of validation. You are entitled to have a different perspective than your loved one, but when you are listening, your job is not to correct their point of view. Your job is to acknowledge that they have a right to their feelings. Acknowledging, validating and accepting their feelings is an effective way to help someone sort through a difficult situation. It is more helpful than offering uninvited advice.
3rd) Listen well. Practice reflective listening. It is important that your loved one knows you are hearing and understanding what they are sharing. Listen and then echo to them the emotions you hear them communicating.
4th) Ask open-ended questions. Good listening asks perceptive, open-ended questions that gently peels the onion and probes beneath the surface. It is the fool who “takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion” (Proverbs 18:2), and thus the fool “gives an answer before he hears” (Proverbs 18:13).
“The purpose in a man’s heart is like deep water,” says Proverbs 20:5, “but a man of understanding will draw it out”. As the doorman, your job is to hold the conversational door open. You do this by asking open-ended questions. You ask questions that do not have an ulterior motive. Instead, you ask questions like “Then what happened” or “How did that make you feel”, etc.
5th) Empathize with your loved one. In order to really connect with someone, you need to understand how they are feeling by relating to it with your own experiences. Regardless of personality differences and differences of opinion, walking a mile in their shoes can bridge the gap.
6th) Take a deep breath. When your loved one is sharing intense and negative emotions, it can be hard to control your own emotional reaction, because it starts to bring up your own feelings. Do not abandon your post as a doorman, take a deep breath and stay present. Listen to their voice, look in their faces, listen and reflect. No matter how long they need to talk, let them talk. Be patient and breathe.
Irene Renteria, M.S.M.