A dear friend gave me a compliment the other day, and told me that I HOLD SPACE IN A WAY THAT ALLOWS PEOPLE TO FEEL SAFE to open up to see and explore different parts of themselves. I was honoured to receive this comment, and touched that she feels this way about our conversations.
I don’t know quite when or how I developed this style of listening, because I don’t think I was always this way.
Our skills and abilities, including soft skills like listening, evolve over time, don’t they? They’re are honed through experience, and trial and error – sometimes with conscious effort and ‘working at it,’ and sometimes they improve quite unexpectedly.
I’m also sure that the style of listening and holding space that she values in me is not the way I operate 100% of the time. Not every interaction or conversation I’m involved in has me so engaged. I don’t think anyone is ever ‘always’ or ‘100%’ [this way] or [that way], no matter what aspect of ourselves we’re considering.
However, I’m happy to know how I’ve impacted her positively and that she shared it with me. After all, it’s often the case that qualities others see and value in us are those we can’t see in ourselves, isn’t it?
As I contemplated her comment, my thoughts wandered to some challenging times one can encounter when listening to another person share, including the following.
WHEN SOMEONE IS STRUGGLING WITH A PART OF THEIR LIFE OR CIRCUMSTANCE which involves something that you don’t have yourself, perhaps something you only dream of having at this point in your life – such as…
~ something is wrong with their new car and it’s presenting challenges for them – financially, logistically, or in some other way – and you don’t even own a car but want one,
~ they are having relationship struggles – and you are unhappily single,
~ they are having trouble with an aspect of their job but your job search continues,
… it might be difficult to consider these things to be challenges from your perspective, and it might be easy to be dismissive. We might quickly consider how we think we would feel based on how little we have by comparison, and think (or even say): ‘…well, at least you HAVE a car / a relationship / a job – how bad can it be?!’
While it’s helpful for a speaker to be mindful of their audience when sharing something that’s troubling them so as not to flaunt or be seen as complaining about what they have to someone who lacks that for themselves and/or has much less, these conversations still happen. AS A LISTENER, IT’S VALUABLE TO:
~ take comparison out of the mix: take yourself out of the equation, and find some way to connect with how they FEEL about the issue rather than focusing on how you feel about the disparity between your circumstances.
~ endeavour to hear their discontent for what it is, to acknowledge that they are suffering – without focusing on the situation solely by considering how different their situation is from yours.
~ remember that they are sharing with you because they are hoping for your help in some way – whether consciously or subconsciously – and whether they’re seeking a solution or idea, or just for you to hold space to allow them to share. Whether you feel that you have less than they do, in that moment they’re feeling deficient in some way – confidence, clarity, calm, relief – such that they feel called to reach out.
~ know that just holding space, without saying anything, without necessarily offering advice or input, can allow a person to simply let their issues hit the air which, in and of itself might spark them to find their own solution.
Being a good listener can be more difficult in some circumstances for some of us than others, and at different times of our lives. It’s not universally easy, but worth the effort to help someone who is having a hard time.
Wishing you a day of openness to what people might share with you – remembering that we all struggle, but we can all help each other by listening, no matter how different our circumstances. ❤
(Photo by Deepu B Iyer, pexels(dot)com)