“How to Be a Good Listener and Stay Healthy” by Joan Y. Edwards
You pride yourself in being a good listener. You care deeply about your friends and family who share with you their hopes and dreams, their ups and downs in life. Have you ever gotten down with sadness or become angry after listening to a friend or family member confide in you? Sometimes I get overwhelmed. It seems like that’s happened more since my husband, Carl died. But it seems heavier than that. I thought is it only me that’s experiencing this overload. Maybe not. Entering the scene before Carl died and after Carl died…COVID.
March 10, 2023 marked three years that Covid went around. You may be like the rest of the world and be on emotional overload. You may have retained and held onto an enormous bit of anxiety, and fear because you and many of your close friends and family as well as strangers in your community and strangers all over the world became sick and even some people you know may have died from COVID.
Perhaps you are carrying around all this extra sadness and sorrow. When you listen to the news or to a friend or spouse, be kind to yourself. Perhaps you need an alarm to go off when your body and mind is on overload. Or maybe you need a cushion or an extra layer of protection for your inner self: Lean more on God than on your own resources. Ask him to make you stronger, more resilient, happier, looking at the bright side of possibilities. Yes, there are always two ways to look at something – a negative way and a positive way. Try to choose the positive way. Some days that is a real challenge in itself, but it can be done.
- To Be a Good Listener, take care of yourself.
Take care of yourself. It’s okay to be sad sometimes about another person’s difficulties. If you find yourself getting overwhelmed, take a break. “You can’t pour from an empty cup.” It’s interesting that according to Jamie Elmer – happy moods, sad moods, and behaviors can be transferred from one person to another; even from listening to the news that focuses on the negative can alter the moods of those watching it. Be aware of too many negatives filling your spirit. Install an alarm to let you know when you’re holding too much in. When you have an overload…when you step on the scales – a sign jumps out and says “overload of sadness” “overload of fear” overload of anxiety.” Once you’ve named it, you can do something about it.
- Protect yourself from listener overload.
- Get adequate rest. Take short walks and long walks. Eat protein snacks. Don’t eat too many high carb foods. High carb foods give you lots of energy right away and then Ka-plooey. Your energy level drops. Eating protein snacks will level out your energy and help your energy last longer.
- Do three(3) fun things to recharge yourself to lighten your load. Fun things are things that refill your spirit…make you smile…give you energy…fill you with positive vibes. Fun gives your body and mind endorphins(good feelings) that remove the strain of too much sadness fear, anxiety or too much of any unwanted thing. Fun things don’t have to cost a lot of money or take a lot of time. Look for them. Embrace them.
Now that you’ve taken good care of yourself, you can be a good listener and stay healthy. Here are things to note before you listen:
- Don’t try to fix their problems. It’s not your job to solve problems for others. Realizing that helps to put you in a healthier way to listen. God and the person who shares a situation with you will be able to fix their problems. They need someone to listen to them. Many times, by telling about their situation with another person, troubled people figure out what they need to do or want to do without anyone saying anything. Listen and offer your support. You can say things like, “I’m here for you,” or “I can help you find resources if you need them.”
- Don’t Do Everything for them. Here is the tricky part. If they ask you to do something…make certain it is something they cannot do for themselves. Don’t agree to do the whole thing. Make sure they must do part of it themselves. Empower them. Encourage them to do what they can on their own. It will help them not to feel so helpless or powerless in the face of their difficulties. If they need the help of a professional, share resources you believe might help them.
- If someone asks you for suggestions, offer ideas for solutions – ideas that worked for you or someone you know. If they don’t use your idea, don’t take it personally. That doesn’t mean they aren’t good ideas or that they don’t like you. One idea leads people to think of more ideas. It links to different memories or ideas in their minds and leads them to possible solutions. There are no bad ideas in brainstorming sessions. All ideas lead to possible solutions. The solution a person chooses may work great for them and not for you. It is wise to remember that each person has a choice and to honor that…even if you do not agree with it.
- Create a safe space. Give the person in front of you or on the other end of the phone your undivided attention. If they are in panic or emergency mode, take the phone call now. If it’s an emergency, see if you need to call 911. If it’s not an emergency and it’s not a good time to talk, ask them if you could call them back in 10 minutes. Respect the speaker’s privacy. Don’t share what the speaker has told you with anyone else without their permission.
- Give speaker your undivided attention. If someone shares with you in person, turn off distracting TV, loud music, or cell phones. Look them in the eye. Get away from others who might overhear the conversation.
- You are not the judge. Do not Judge. Let the person know that they can talk to you without judgment. Avoid passing judgment on what they did or what others did. Remember God is the Judge and he is compassionate. This is not the time to say, “I told you so” or “You shouldn’t have done that.”
- Pay attention to the speaker’s body language. Non-verbal cues can tell you a lot about how someone is feeling. The way someone talks gives you clues as to their feelings and stress levels. The way they breathe and the words they choose and how they say them also give you ideas on how high their stress levels are.
Now that you know what is expected of you, Choose the appropriate mode for this situation for someone to share their difficulties and emotions with you:
Listening Mode means you are listening and let the other person say whatever it is they need to say without interrupting. In Listening Mode you listen to them tell all the details. Be patient. There may be pauses. It may take time for the speaker to find the words to express what happened or what they are feeling. When they are finished talking, that’s when they want a response from you. This is when you can summarize what they said and ask questions. This helps to ensure that you’re on the same page as the speaker and that you’ve understood them correctly.
Conversation Mode means they will say something and then you can say something. In conversation mode, the words flow back and forth between two people. After someone tells you something, ask questions and give them time to respond. After they finish sharing, you can summarize by giving “I heard you say” or “I understand that you are angry,” “That is so sad,” or “I know that must have frightened you” statements.
When you listen attentively and give moral support (emotional supoort) to others by encouraging them, it gives them a feeling of being loved and cared for and that they matter and are important. Remember to ask God to lead you to say the right things to encourage someone in distress. He will help both of you!
Good luck with your listening. I hope my ideas help spark something to help you think of a way that really works for you. Please share with me the things you do to help you be a good listener and stay healthy. Here are resources that might help you.
- Call Centra Helper.com. “Does Body Language Really Matter When Talking on the Phone?” https://www.callcentrehelper.com/does-body-language-really-matter-when-talking-on-the-telephone-1711.htm
- Communication Coach. YouTube. “5 Tips to be a Great Conversationalist:” https://youtu.be/UI77r29fXuw
- Bryan Robinson. Forbes. “The 3 to1 Positivity Ratio and 10 Ways It Advances Your Career.”https://www.forbes.com/sites/bryanrobinson/2020/10/16/10-ways-the-3-to-1-positivity-ratio-can-advance-your-career/?sh=38ea49b670c4
- Declutter the Mind. “21 Ways to Show Moral Support to People in Need:” https://declutterthemind.com/blog/moral-support/
- Jamie Elmer. Healthline.com. “Is Depression Contagious:” https://www.healthline.com/health/is-depression-contagious
- Modern Minds. “You Can’t Pour from an Empty Cup:” https://modern-minds.com/you-cant-pour-from-an-empty-cup-why-self-care-isnt-selfish/
- Nulacha Sutthinonthagul. Elite Plus Magazine. “10 Rules of a Great Conversationalist:” https://www.eliteplusmagazine.com/home/content/1183/7#gsc.tab=0
- Jack Zenger. “What Great Listeners Actually Do:” https://hbr.org/2016/07/what-great-listeners-actually-do
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Never Give Up
Joan Y. Edwards, Author
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