In last weeks Newsletter we looked at studies showing the benefits people receive when they are able to talk about their trials, tribulations and stressful events. After talking about and disclosing their previous stressful and traumatic events:
People with arthritis have substantially less pain, stiffness and swelling, confirmed on examination by arthritis specialists.
People with asthma have improved lung function verified on pulmonary testing.
Peoples cognitive function and mood improve, verified by psychological testing.
Peoples immune systems are strengthened based on before and after lab tests.
Academic performance improves reflected by a higher GPA next semester.
These improvements did NOT occur for those that talked about trivial issues or emotionally neutral topics.
Simply Talking about your Trials and Stresses will
Improve Your Health, Well Being and Success!
Women, who are more likely to confide in others, generally live longer than men. Men who are more likely to bottle up their issues inside don't live as long as women.
Each of us Needs to Confide in Somebody Regularly.
Our Physical and Emotional Health Depends on it.
A confidant is just as important as good food, exercise, and adequate sleep. And likewise, each person needs to be that listening ear for one or more people in their life.
How do I Confide in Somebody?
Pick the right person. Somebody you can trust to keep your information private. Your spouse, perhaps a sibling, or a good friend.
Pick the right time. Not just as somebody is heading off to work, or involved in something else that demands their attention.
Pick the right location. A place with some privacy and minimal distractions.
A professional counselor, may be warranted if your problems are interfering with your life, and/or are endangering you or others, and/or you have tried to talk with others about it, but haven't been successful.
Call the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline if your mental health is in crisis.
You should let the person you are confiding in know what you expect. You can say:
I need to share some things with you. I'm hoping you will listen and understand. I'm not looking for advice, just somebody to listen. Do you have some time for me?
By sharing your expectations right up front, you will help them to know your expectations. They will feel more comfortable knowing what is expected of them. Another good strategy is to have the person you have chosen to confide in, read this Newsletter, and perhaps the Newsletter from last week as well. That will help them to know the importance of listening, and give them a clearer idea of what their role is.
Let's talk about the basics of listening and then go over a few obstacles.
How to be a Good Listener!
When somebody is sharing their feelings or challenges with you, it is your chance to listen. It's NOT a conversation. You don't go back and forth. They talk and you listen.
It's not a debate. You should not tell them why they shouldn't be discouraged or feel the way they feel.
It is not a game. No one-upsmanship. They don't need to hear your war stories, or that you had an even harder day. Maybe you did, but this is your chance to listen, you can discuss you later.
It's NOT a time for multi-tasking. Active listening requires your full attention. Turn off the TV, put your phone down, work on the cross word puzzle later.
You should ask a clarifying question occasionally, to ensure you understand what you are hearing. This also reassures the speaker that they still have your attention, allowing them to focus on what they are trying to say.
At times, when they pause, you may want to reflect back what you heard.
If they object to what you reflect back, don't argue with them. Let them start over or provide clarification, so you can hear what they are really saying. Listen to their message, not your predetermined conclusions. Your goal is to be able to reflect back to them, and have them say: "Exactly!" Then they know they have been heard and you know you have listened. The therapeutic magic happens when a person knows they have been heard AND understood.
At this point, what they have shared generally falls into 1 of 2 different categories.
One is feelings and frustrations they wanted to share. There is no dilemma to be fixed, no problem to be solved. If you have listened and successfully reflected back to them, you might be done. They may want to discuss it further, just to rehash it a little. Keep listening. They may want to bring it up again at some future point. Be prepared to listen again.
Or they may have reached a decision point about whatever dilemma or situation they have been discussing. They now need to make a decision.
If they have reached a decision point, do you provide counsel or advice? Do you give them the solution to their problem? Probably not. Even if they specifically ask for advice you are better off to say:
"What do you see as your options?"
After they give you 2 or 3 options, you might say:
"What do you see as the advantages and disadvantages of each option?"
A later question might be:
"Well, taking all this into consideration, what do you think your best option is?"
In all of this, you are allowing them to talk and explore options and share their feelings and MAKE THEIR OWN DECISIONS. It's not about you, or how you would solve their dilemma. You are just the sounding board. If you are convinced they are missing the best solution, you may very gingerly, and only rarely say:
"Have you considered this option?"
If they have any interest in the idea, you could then ask them:
"What do you see as the advantage and disadvantages of this option?"
But always your role is to help them talk through their problems and find their own solution.
Barriers to Good Listening.
Judging. When you are listening to somebody, you are helping them to sort out and process their own feelings. Don't point the finger of judgement. They are probably very aware of their own mistakes. Now they need a sounding board to sort things out. Just listen and reflect.
Don't Confuse Understanding with Agreement. Just because you give them the opportunity to talk out their issue, and you strive to understand them, does not mean you agree with them. You can understand them and reflect back what you are hearing and still disagree with them. Just keep the disagreement to yourself.
Listening and Discussing are 2 Different Things. A conversation is a back and forth social sharing. There is a time and place to have a conversation. But not when somebody needs you to listen to them. If you give this some thought, you will recognize the difference.
As you listen you may notice obvious exaggerations and embellishments. You don't need to point out these deviations from fact . They are probably embellishing to make sure you get the point. Keep listening and try to understand the point they are making.
And of course the Biggie! When somebody needs you to listen, they are NOT asking for your solutions. You listening is the solution.
Only very RARELY should you offer any advice, and even then it must be done in a nonconfrontational, noncoercive manner. For example you might say:
"I know somebody else that had a similar problem and this is what they did."
"You know, typically experts advise against that course of action. Are there reasons why that advice wouldn't apply to you?"
"Of course you know the standard advice in these types of situations. Do you think the standard advice would work in your case?"
In each instance, the information is offered, just to ensure they have the information, but allowing them full freedom to make their own choice without judgement or pressure.
In this life each of us needs a confidant, often our spouse for married people. And each of us needs to be a confidant for others. All of us can be a stronger, healthier people as we learn to confide in, and accept confidences from others, in a healthy way.
In some cases, those that confide in you, will have serious issues, that may need professional attention, and you can help them find a professional counselor. The 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline is an immediate 24/7 resource for anybody in a mental health crisis. The person in crisis can call or others may call on their behalf.
I wish everybody many healthy conversations!
Take care and BE HEALTHY!