It happens in life. Someone we know will be fired, go through a divorce, be informed of an illness, receive an indictment, be involved in an accident, or lose someone they love. When this happens likely, they will want to not only tell us but want to talk about it. There are many ways to “be there” and most involve recognizing the challenge they face, affirming the feelings they have, while being empathic. Remind them of their strengths and how you will be there to help them through. Even if we, as the listener, feel uncomfortable, changing the subject or acting as if nothing is going on, isn’t likely to be helpful to the person who has come to us. It is important, though, to recognize our own responses so that we can know how far we can go, how much we can absorb in our attempt to be there.
Some responses that are often helpful:
Listen with an open heart and an open mind. Your job is not to fix the situation or make it better. By paying attention to the “way” you listen (your body language, your tone, your words) you can convey to the person that you are there for them in ways they need you to be. So, pay attention to what they might be experiencing and what they think they need. If you are not sure, you can ask. Likely, most people want someone to listen as they process what has happened.
Listen with an understanding that what you may be hearing is only part of the story. There may be an emotional response to something deeper than what they are telling you. Don’t push. Sometimes, only a portion of what is shared is what is able to be tolerated at a certain time. Be patient.
Listen with kindness. Check in with yourself and notice if you can feel something akin to what this person is experiencing. There is no need to share your experience at this time (it is not about you) but it may be helpful to get in touch with a time when you felt similarly.
Listen without judgement. Stay neutral so they can explore their own response without feeling criticized.
Listen without offering the bright side. There will be time for that, and it is likely not now. At this moment, the person may be feeling raw and vulnerable. Your optimism may be premature. They may assume you do not understand their perspective.