Listen, Kids

The Elegant Power of Listening

It’s over. Our decorations for the holidays are down and most everyone, if they weren’t back into normal routines last week, will surely be back on Monday. In many ways, this resumption of normality offers a degree of comfort. But it also leads us into a month of challenges for many people. A time when a friend or loved one might need us. This might be a good time to rediscover the elegant power of listening.

Melinda Wenner Moyer tells us that conversation can be a surprisingly powerful way to support one who is facing sadness:

“One of the most powerful ways to soothe a person’s feelings is to start a conversation.

“Words play a powerful role in shaping people’s emotions because humans are such a social species. People’s brains are finely attuned to information they get from others.”

The Fix-It Impulse

It’s worth remembering that even if a friend or loved one wants support from us, we are not their therapist. The fix it impulse can be can be strong and thus, requires effort to set it aside. But that effort is worthwhile if the goal is to be supportive.

Recent research by Razia Sahi and colleagues found that the most consistently helpful interaction for dealing with difficult feelings was validation. In other words, “I understand” is much more helpful than “have you considered thinking about it this way?”.

The elegant power of listening comes from knowing that it’s not your job to fix it, it’s your job to listen and care.

A Friend for Life

Responding to Moyer’s writing about the value of starting a conversation, Tess from Indiana offers a vivid example from her mother:

“My mom tells a story of almost 20 years ago, when a former neighbor and his wife had a baby very prematurely. Their little baby was in the hospital for weeks, and no one was sure if baby would make it. My mom and the neighbor were on the school board together, and the poor guy had to show up for a mundane meeting while his baby was struggling in the hospital.

“At the meeting everyone was avoiding him out of discomfort and not knowing what to say and he was sitting by himself, looking miserable. Mom said she could not stand seeing him by himself, went up to him, said she was sorry for what he was going through, we were praying for his family, and to let us know how we can help.

“The father began weeping and mom held his hand, just being there for him. Mom said she made a lifelong friend that day, just speaking to the man when no one else would. Just acknowledging that the other person is going through something can be very powerful. The baby pulled through, thrived, and I believe is now in college.”

Simple listening has an elegant power.

Click here for more of Moyer’s writing, here for more on how to be a better listener, and here for a case study of how important listening can be in caring for marginalized people.

Listen, Kids! Photograph by Designpeter, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

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January 8, 2023