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As much as I would like to think that my support system intuitively knows how to help me, sometimes they don't come through for me. I've come to the conclusion that they do want to help me, but every once in a while they forget how to do it. It reminds me that being able to offer support is a skill that must be learned and practiced.
Recent events have made it clear to me that it's time for a little refresher course for my support system on how to offer support.
Lesson number one is just listen. And when I say listen, I mean focus your entire attention on the words being spoken to you and let go of trying to come up with a response to what you hear. We so often get distracted by how we want to respond to what someone is saying that we stop listening to the other person. In that moment, we get disconnected from what is needed most from us--a sympathetic ear.
Active listening is a hard skill to master. But I think you will agree with me when I say that our greatest supporters are the ones who are able to simply listen to us when we need talk. They are the ones who fully absorb our monologue and can reflect our words back to us. In this way, they act as a sounding board, helping us view our thoughts and feelings in a different light.
Lesson number two is stop talking. As I mentioned above, when we listen to someone speaking we often get distracted trying to come up with a response to their words. This often leads to us to interrupting the speaker and introjecting our thoughts and opinions in to their monologue.
We sometimes forget that it is often easier for us to understand other people's problems and harder for us to see our own. We forget that to help someone else get a clearer view of their problems we must let them talk. It does no good for us to jump in with our insights and solutions. We need to remember that the best solution for someone else's problem is the solution that they come up with for themselves.
Again, I think you will agree with me that the people who support us best are the ones who guide us to our own solutions.
Say Something Nice
When the speaker is done talking, it's time for the third and final lesson: say something nice. What I mean by "nice" is say something that is empathetic and supportive. Things like: I am sorry you are going through this. This sounds like a really tough situation. I can see that you are really upset by this. I know you will figure out what to do about this. I am here for you whenever you need to talk.
I see this as the part where you, the listener, let go of your thoughts and feelings about the speaker's situation and focus on the support they need in the moment. Because the bottom line is your thoughts and feelings about the situation don't matter. If you want to support your friend, you need to focus on your friend. Your friend needs to figure this out for themselves, and unless you are directly asked, your opinion about the situation isn't relevant.
We don't always have to agree or see eye to eye with our friends, but we do need to show we care. Which I guess means if you find yourself over and over again in situations where you can't put your opinions aside in order to be supportive, then perhaps the friendship isn't meant to be.
Fostering the Support You Need
Reviewing these three lessons, you now know what to ask for when you approach someone for support. If they start talking and offering solutions, you can let them know that you just need them to listen. If they are not sure how they can help you, you can let them know that by listening to your concerns it helps you explore your situation and come up with an answer that will work for you. If their words sound critical or judgmental, you can let them know that saying something nice helps you feel understood and supported.
In addition, practicing these three lessons when a friend comes to you for support demonstrates to them an effective way to help someone in need.
So you see, with a little patience and coaching you can create a support system that is responsive to your needs.