How to Listen to Someone Else's Problems

I had a conversation with my good friend Betty the other day. She was very frustrated with something that was going on in her life. Because we are friends, she was sharing her opinion, feelings, and distress with me concerning this situation. In other words…she was venting.

I could hear her frustration and I could empathize with her point of view. I really wanted to help her out, to fix her problem, to make her feel better.  So I started to share the solution as I could see it. Here’s the problem: she did not ask for my help! She did not need my advice, my help, or my opinion! All she wanted was to be heard, listened to, appreciated. 

I think it’s nice that we want to help people out, but we can really only help when they ask for it. As I was thinking about how to ‘help’ Betty, I was not being a good listener or a good friend. I was inserting my own opinion, instead of listening to hers. I was thinking that I could solve her problem and in that way, I thought I was somehow above her, better than her, or more capable than her.  

When someone is venting, let them vent. Don’t get emotionally caught up in their whirlwind, don’t let their problem become your problem. Just give them a safe, non-judgemental space to talk it out. If they ask for your opinion, give it. If they don’t ask for your opinion, don’t give it. They will come to their own solution.

Practical Strategies to Deal With Daily Stressors

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