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Updated: May 19, 2020

What would you like to hear when things aren’t going your way?

Envision yourself at the end of a long, stressful day. You finally get your children to sleep and call your go-to support person to share the details of your day. 

I’m so exhausted. I didn’t get the laundry done on time yesterday so Ben didn’t have clean socks to wear and the day just started off on a bad note.The baby was extra cranky today. I think she’s teething, and she would not go down for her nap. The laundry’s still not done, my house is flying, and I feel like a failure.”

Cheerfully, your friend replies “Oh well, tomorrow’s another day!”

Do you feel better now?

Do you feel like you were heard and understood? 

Will you hang up the phone feeling better? Probably not. 

What about if you shared your stressors and got the following response: “That sounds draining! It is such an awful feeling when things seem out of control.”

Yes! It is!” What are you feeling now? Maybe some relief at being listened to, and having your feelings validated instead of brushed off.

Sometimes, we think we are commiserating, when we are actually overshadowing someone’s experience instead of just listening to them.

I’m so nervous about going into labor.” Dini, expecting her first child, shared with her friend Aviva.

Aviva nodded. “I know what you mean. When I was pregnant with my oldest daughter, I spent the last trimester obsessed with hearing people’s birth stories so I could get a clue about what it was going to be like.”

While friends can certainly share their experiences with one another, as an initial response it would be preferable to focus on the feeling being shared. Aviva could have responded to Dini saying, “It’s typical to be nervous about the unknown. Is there anything in particular that is worrying you?” With this response, Dini would likely have felt that her feelings were real and normal, and that her friend was actually listening to her. In the course of the conversation that followed, Aviva would get the chance to share her personal experiences, as they might in fact benefit Dini. 

There tends to be a difference in the way that males and females communicate (to say the least), where males tend to be more solution focused and women tend to have a creative communication process where problems are explored.

Josh and Ariella were chatting about their day over dinner. 

Work was draining today,” Ariella told Josh. “Stacy couldn’t come in today, she was sick, and only Emma was available to unpack the new shipment. Between organizing everything that came in, manning the register and being on top of everything else, it took everything out of me.” Josh responded, “Why didn’t you call my sister to come and help you? She said you could always rely on her to step in when you need an extra hand in the store.”

While Josh meant well, and was trying to be helpful by thinking of a solution that could have made Ariella’s day easier, there was a sense of disconnect in the conversation. Ariella was sharing her feelings. She was not asking Josh to problem solve with her. If this conversation has taken place first thing in the morning, when Stacy called out sick, this idea could in fact have been helpful to Ariella. What Ariella was describing, however, was something that had already occurred and her lack of help was not the primary message she was trying to convey.

Josh’s response gave Ariella the feeling that he just didn't understand her. If Josh would have listened and validated Ariella’s feelings, warmth and closeness would be fostered.

A connection is built between individuals when the listener is paying attention and is able to give what is needed in the conversation.

People want to be heard.

When self disclosure is met with a listening ear, relationships flourish.

Listen, it can’t hurt to try.

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