1. The Eyes, Chico, They Never Lie.
People don’t need to go through great volumes on de-coding body language to understand when someone is distracted or uninterested in what they’re saying. The easiest way to make them feel like you don’t care is looking everywhere but at them.
If they’re being vulnerable and opening up to you, the least you can do is look at them while they speak.It makes them know you aren’t caught up with your own thoughts, and they have your full attention. Let them know your focus is on them.
2. Give Them What They Want From You.
People vent for various reasons. Sometimes, they could use a piece of advice, but most times, they just want someone to listen to them with no judgement. Understand what the person wants from you, and do just that. If you notice them getting flustered when you talk, just listen. Tell them you care and that you’re here for them.
Sometimes, they will directly ask you to “just hear me out”
However, there are a few things that are beyond us, like the composition of our brains and our tendency to act a certain way when we’re dealing with stress and trouble.
In the phenomenal book by Louann Brizendine titled “The Male Brain”, she explains how men’s brains are wired to act as problem solving machines, and men have a tendency to use their analytical side instead of emotional when dealing with problems and don’t pine over them for long.
Females on the other hand tend to get emotional and would rather sit and have a good cry first, and then find what works. if they’re crying to you, they just want to feel loved and cared for. They do not -I repeat, they do not- want any advice or solution from you, they’re smart enough to figure that out on their own.
Use your gut feeling and a few questions to maneuver around and understand if the person is open for discussion/ feedback/ help, or just needs you to lend an ear.
3. Put On That Inquisitive Hat!
This applies whether they want to discuss the issue or not. People like attention and will answer questions, so long the questions are not too much/ too many, and they don’t feel attacked. If they don’t want a discussion, wait until they’re done talking, and then ask them, in moderation.
Asking questions shows them you’re interested. The questions must be constructive, useful to reach a solution or help understand the situation better. Don’t be nosy and ask them irrelevant questions that swerve away from the main problem. Also steer clear of things they might not be comfortable answering, we’re trying to make them feel better, not feed our curiosity.
Sometimes, asking the wrong question can immediately put them off and you don’t want that.
4. Make Them Feel Heard.
When people come to you to vent, you have a responsibility to fulfill. You must make them feel like their problem, no matter how small, matters. That they matter. Saying things like “I understand how you feel”, “I can understand why you must’ve done that”, “I’d feel the same way if I were you” “We live and we learn” can go a long way. Apart from that, body language also counts. Smile, nod occasionally, lean towards them, tilt your head to the side and listen.
Given the right time, hugs work like magic too. (Don’t do this while they’re in mid-rant)
5. It’s Not About You!
It’s the route most people unknowingly take when trying to empathize with the person. You want them to feel better, so you tell them all the hell you’ve been through, which you insist was worse than what the person is currently dealing with, so of course they should be feeling better already. Your intention could be to make them feel better, but guess what? saying that will make little or no difference to the person and will only make them feel like “you just don’t get it”. If anything, all the talk about yourself will just feed your ego and make you feel like some great martyr.
There’s a thin line between trying to make them see their problems with a pinch of salt and making the person feel like their problems are silly and unimportant.
6. Please Don’t Crack Jokes or Change The Topic.
The clowning can wait.
Look I get it. many people do this and pride themselves on being able to make someone laugh when they’re upset. But there’s a right time for everything.
If you do this, you have more issues than the person talking about their issues. Because you’re trying to escape a problem that’s not even yours in the first place!
There’s no doubt in my mind that if you do it when it’s uncalled for, although the person may laugh, they will feel invalidated and unheard. Some people will be bold enough to call you out on it but most will not. they will simply laugh and set a mental reminder never to get candid like this with you again.
Talking about movies and some silly thing you did earlier this morning won’t help them forget what they’re going through either. it just makes them feel so stupid for talking to you in the first place. It’s extremely insensitive. Stop doing that. Don’t take pride in it. it’s not healthy, and it’s probably the easiest way to come off as a total jerk.
Wait until after they’ve calmed down and said whatever they wanted to, and are feeling better. Then by all means, resume your clowning and light-hearted talk and land your jokes. It works better because they will really laugh then.
Everything is trial and error when it comes to humans and their never ending ocean of emotions. Try and see what works with which person and with enough practice, you just might become people’s go-to when life’s going in the 1st gear for them. (I hope that’s what you wanted. :P)