by Jess Welch
Stop, Listen, and… Respond
As a wife, friend, and health coach I tend to want to solve. I want to fix. I crave the ability to alter someone else’s life experience so it is more meaningful and fulfilling to them. I went into this field to “help people.” So quickly I learned that my wanting to help people was really wanting to find solutions to problems that people cannot find themselves. Who doesn’t want to be the magic genie to make someone’s goals and dreams come true? However, that is always not the best way to help.
Too often, I find myself hearing stories that someone is experiencing similar to one I have personally experienced and stop listening. “I have the solution!! I have been there!” I want so badly to connect with clients and friends based on similarities that I forget the most important step.
Listening. Fully listening then responding in a way most meaningful to the person you are communicating with, not to you. This basic format of conversation is simple: Step 1) Listen Step 2) Respond. But what does that look like? What should that look like?
For anyone accustomed to conversing in a way to fix or make connections based on similar experiences, I look at this task as being as difficult as changing diet, starting a new exercise regimen, or quitting smoking.
Let’s dive deeper. Listening doesn’t always mean listening. Attention doesn’t always mean attention. I can be having an in-person conversation, have my phone out texting someone else, and be thinking about all the housework I need to do. Our world is designed to encourage multi-tasking so it is only natural that we do that while listening. However, meaningful connections are missed if we cannot figure out how to be in the moment and be present. This affects the person speaking as well as you.
Evaluating your response in moments of crisis, pain, or even contemplation for the party you are speaking to is the key. I am victim to this; I want to fix. My job is not to fix as I am not an expert in everything my loved ones or clients may be experiencing. So instead of trying to find the ultimate solution, we must respond in a way that is helpful and lets the person know you are quite simply… there for them.
Often our responses contain one of two things: sympathy or empathy. Understanding the difference between the two is essential. Sympathy tends to set us apart from one another. It is looking at someone rather than being with someone. Empathy is allowing yourself, and that person, to be in this situation together. I’d love to encourage everyone reading to allow that to sit with them.
Strategies for mindfulness and expressing empathy are vast and can vary depending on who you are and what works for you. Just like one exercise may work for me but not for you, trying different strategies will eventually lead you to one that is most effective for you. A couple mindfulness tips to try would be: putting your phone away, making eye contact, repeating what someone has said in your head, preparing yourself prior to a conversation with a few deep breaths, allowing yourself a break from all you have going on. A couple empathetic tips to try would be: reflective responses (taking out questions or personal experiences and repeating what a person has said in a different way), avoiding pity, make observations instead of evaluations, offer a chance for more to be said from the individual speaking.
Remember: Listen and Respond. Help by being present rather than presenting solutions. And try different strategies of mindfulness and empathy to help get there. I know you will see changes in your work and home relationships by trying this.