How to Listen When Someone Has a Probelm

How hard is it for you to listen to someone when he or she has a problem?

The answer to that question might depend on whom you are listening to and what kind of relationship you have with the person. In addition, finding the time to listen can be challenging.

However, being a good listener is especially important when someone has problems to talk about. We listen to show caring, to learn new information and to understand rather than force conformity. Attentive listeners observe, acknowledge, encourage, check out, interpret, and sometimes agree to disagree. Let me give you some tips that will help you be a good listener when someone has a problem.

You might think of the person you are listening to as being stuck in a mud hole. When this happens, it is important for you to know about three different listening approaches.

  1. Sympathy – if you are sympathetic, you might have a feeling of concern without becoming involved. You feel sorry for the person in the mud hole while you stand off to the side. Maybe you send supplies or show you are concerned. However, you choose to remain apart. This does not usually lead to a close meaningful relationship with the person. Yet, this is sometimes appropriate because it is all you can offer.
  2. Over-identification – when you take on the feelings and characteristics of the person to whom you are listening so the problem becomes yours, you are over-identifying with the person. It means you have jumped into the mud hole and are possibly getting as stuck in the difficulty as the person you are listening to. When this occurs, you can lose yourself in the relationship. Then you are no longer able to be objective or much help to the person who has the problem. It also depletes you of energy.
  3. Empathy – when you are feeling the problem as if it is yours without taking it on yourself, just trying to understand it, you are showing empathy for the person in the mud hole. It does not mean you agree with everything the person is thinking or feeling. You are able to see things from his or her perspective. You keep your own reality while understanding the other person’s thoughts, feelings and concerns. You get involved while maintaining control of yourself. This response is an important part of Emotional Intelligence and critical for building trust with others. This may or may not take some time.

Being a good listener is an active process that puts care into action. It is a skill that requires practice, especially when there are problems. I encourage you to practice using these tips to help you improve your listening skills. They work especially well and are easy to practice when you are listening to someone who is talking about how well things are going or something that is exciting. When you find that is easy to do, start to practice listening when someone wants to talk with you about a problem.

Action Step: To practice listening to someone that has a problem, set a time that works for both of you. Eliminate distractions, monitor your nonverbal signals so they match your words. Show respect and be comfortable with times of silence. Ask appropriate questions and strive to be an empathetic listener.

Comment below about what helps you be a good listener.

To your success,


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