I remember a while back I called a friend of mine to catch up. As we spoke it became apparent she was having a tough time in many ways. After hearing her speak I resorted to giving her advice (from the top of my head) and some tips on how I thought she could deal with her issues moving forward. She then got angry stating to me that my tips were things she had already considered/tried and that she wasn’t seeking my advice. I quickly apologised after and we shortly ended the call, with confusion still hanging in the air on my side.
Although my initial emotion reflex was to get angry and annoyed I later realised my friend had unknowingly taught me a valuable lesson through that interaction. Sometimes, when people pour their hearts out to you, they aren’t looking for resolve or an immediate solution, they just want you to listen. It’s a simple observation and one that feels oh so obvious but yet, something even I have much room for improvement in.
Nowadays in my interactions with people, I find myself wondering what true listening is/ looks like. There’s one thing I can tell you in regards to this.
It involves empathy and seeking to understand the feelings being shared with you. Depending on whether the situation calls for it it may involve; giving advice or rather it may involve a simple hug or show of affection. Following up with questions is always good; it shows you are listening, interested and have a grasp on what is being relayed to you. ‘How did that make you feel?‘, ‘What can I do to help?‘ or sometimes a ‘thank you for sharing that with me‘ may be called for in the aftermath of the most difficult of confessions.
The first line I write with consideration because there are times when you may not relate to the nature of the problems people you listen to are going through and that’s okay. The worst it means for you is that you can’t say ‘I know what you’re going through, [insert personal story of how you relate here]’. I say this particularly when you come from a different world from the person you talk to.
For example, if a person of colour (POC) meets a white person and the former starts talking about racial discrimination they have faced; as white person from a working-class background it is not suddenly called for you to go ‘I can relate because as someone who grew up on an estate blah blah blah…’ Such things can be done with the sincerest of intentions but are, in my opinion, the wrong course of action to take. Rather, take the opportunity to properly listen to the POC and understand their experience. Use it, if you like, as a learning experience. This applies in regards to numerous oppressed or minority groups you may ever encounter; from travellers to the LGBT+ community. Only when such things are taken into account can dialogue between groups and/ or individuals be effectively done.