In every relationship, there comes a point in time when we have to be listeners. Whether it is a friendship, with a family member, or our romantic partner, listening is important.
When someone we love needs to talk, we need to be there for them. But do you know what it takes to be a truly supportive listener? Do you know how to be someone who supports rather than reacts?
Something that we often do when we sit down to listen to the people in our lives is react to what they are saying. In fact, do you ever find yourself half listening, while also preparing what you are going to say when they finish speaking? I think we are all a bit guilty of this.
The problem is that when you are planning what you are going to say in response to what you are hearing, you aren’t really listening. Or even if you are listening, you aren’t fully invested in what they are saying because you are trying to find a way to speak up.
If you think about it, you might realize that often when someone tells you something, you turn around and give an example of something in your life that compares or a situation that happened to you that was similar. This is not being a supportive listener, even if you think it is.
When we make what is being said about ourselves, we are not showing support for our friend or lover. Instead, we have found a way to flip the focus, even if we didn’t mean to do this.
In order to be a supportive listener, it is important to keep the focus on the person who has shared their problems or story. Rather than responding with a similar situation you have found yourself in, keep your response simple. Make it clear that you have heard what they are saying.
Perhaps you can remind them of something in their life they have already had to deal with that relates to what they have told you. Or if not, ask them questions to clarify something you may not understand. You could even ask them what they think they are going to do about whatever has transpired.
Only if they bring up a situation you have been in that relates to theirs should you talk about yourself. None of us want to make the people in our lives feel alone, but being a supportive listener means that we have to give the person talking the chance to have the spotlight when they are telling us the problems they are dealing with.
Don’t take short cuts in your relationship
In any relationship it is important not to take shortcuts. In terms of being a supportive listener, what this means is that it is important not to be lazy in your response. Really think about what the other person is telling you. Are they grieving a loss? Are they dealing with a bad break up? Whatever the situation, it’s important to be present in the moment.
This is someone you love or care about and that means you don’t want them to feel like they can’t turn to you for support. Don’t make any conversation about you. Yes, we know how hard that can be. The problem is that in our desire to offer our support, we tend to do it in a way that makes others feel as if even their issues are about you.
In order to be a more supportive listener, it can help to find ways to incorporate listening techniques into everyday conversations. This includes asking further questions to dig deep into what someone is telling you.
If you are looking for ways to keep the focus on the person you are talking with, we recommend checking out Psych Central and their piece on “How to Tell if You’re a Conversational Narcissist.” We think it may help you in becoming more supportive as a listener, while also helping to train you in the art of not being narcissistic in a conversational setting.
While it can be hard to not turn a conversation towards yourself when trying to show that a person is not alone, being a supportive listener means finding ways to keep the focus on them, no matter what the topic is.