Every now and then, our near and dear ones approach us with their concerns. Most of the times when they talk about their problems, we fret about what would be the right thing to say. We can say that they deserved that or blame the situation or fate too. But, we strongly feel that we should say something to show them that we are listening. So, often we end up giving advice or statements that do more harm.
We know that it is bad advice and yet, we can’t stop ourselves. We just don’t want to see them hurting and in pain. Sometimes, we do bite our tongue but feel obliged to say something. Well, research suggests that it’s completely normal to fret about that because there is nothing right or wrong to say to a troubled person. There is no magic statement that would comfort them.
However, there is something you can say to them that will fulfil your selfish urge to contribute to the situation and help them too — I feel you.
Yes, it’s that simple. You see, when people are sharing their problems, all they want is a listening ear and not advice to fix the issue. Not until they specifically ask for help. So, the best thing you can do in such situations is nod your head, maybe hold their hand and say, “That sucks. I feel you, buddy!”
Telling them that they are overreacting or overthinking isn’t going to help them feel better. On the contrary, it will close them for further advice and whatever useful advice you may have will find its place in the bin. But, when you offer emotional validation, you convey that you’re with them and their emotions are normal and justified. They make sense. Nothing is weird and you accept them, their confused state of mind, their problems as a natural part of living. This way, you open them up to share more and become receptive to what you may propose (of course, not immediately, but later when they are calmer).
A study confirmed this person-centric approach where participants were asked to imagine themselves telling someone about a recent argument they had with their spouse. Then, they were asked to rate six different types of support messages that the researchers had prepared earlier. Some of them were more person-centred (validated the speaker’s thoughts and feelings) while others were less person-centred and advice like.
More person-centric: “You have every right to feel upset”, “It’s understandable to be stressed out”Less person-centric: “All couples argue”, “Don’t get so worked up!“
The results showed that more person-centric messages that validated the speaker’s feelings were perceived as more comforting and convincing. Thus, reiterating that our presence and attention are what they are looking for as comfort.
The power of listening is quite underrated in our lives. We undermine its transformative effect and thus, try to offer advice when in fact, seeing things from other’s perspective and accepting them is all one wants. When we listen, we give others a chance to express themselves honestly.
So, next time, when someone shares their heart with you, don’t zone out into thinking the right advice. Don’t fret about the right words. Just be there, listen to them and say, “I feel you.”