If you’ve opened this story then you’ve probably been a similar scenario:
Your partner or someone close to you, is obviously upset and they ask if they can talk to you. Wanting to help, you say yes. They then proceed to word vomit all their emotions.
You’re not gonna lie, it’s a bit overwhelming. Scratch that, no it’s a lot to take in. Karen said she wants to speak to who?
They’ve finished saying a point.
There’s a long pause… An awkwardness enters the air. You’re about to use some filler to keep the conversation going when they ask you,
“Are you even listening?”
You reassure them that you were, but emotional daggers come from their eyes. They’re hurt and almost look like they regret opening up to you to begin with.
The conversation ends on a not-so-great-note, and you’re left feeling like you’ve failed to comfort them.
As much as it sucks for your significant other to feel unheard, sometimes you’re just as confused about how to make them feel heard! It can be a helpless feeling not knowing how to fix the situation.
Now before you start labeling yourself as someone who “just isn’t great at comforting people.”
Fear not my ‘socially awkward fellow’. The following tips can help you show your loved ones that you are indeed listening.
1. Eye Contact
Now don’t feel the need to stare into your partner’s eyes 100% of the time. That’s just creepy. Easy does it. A great tip to remember when it comes to eye contact is the 50–70 rule.
When listening, maintain eye contact 70% of the time, and when speaking make eye contact 50% of the time. Hold eye contact for 4–5 seconds at a time.
Eye contact is critical because it shows your loved ones that you are interested in what they have to say, and are not drifting off in your own thoughts. It gives them a sense of importance and shows that you are mentally present in the conversation.
Compare the importance of eye contact like not wanting to get called on during a class lesson. What has avoiding any form of eye contact with the teacher probably gotten you?
Your friend will call you out in the same way if you can’t maintain basic eye contact.
There are 2 ways to mirror:
Mirroring with Your Words
To do so is when you repeat back what your partner has told you, but in your own words. The ‘special sauce’ is adding empathy. You do this by picturing their situation as if it were your own.
Your friend: I just don’t understand why he would do this to me. I gave him everything. I’m so heartbroken.
You: That’s awful I’m so sorry. It is hard to believe that he could do that to you when you gave him everything.
By repeating back what they said in your own words with added empathy, it makes your partner feel like you’ve processed what they said. They feel like you understand where they are coming from.
Stop overusing “Yeah.” or “Uh-huh” as a response. Generic responses like those are probably what got you the side-eye in the first place.
When used correctly and regularly, mirroring can make a big difference in your relationships and create a solid sense of connection, instead of having your partner feel like they’re talking to a brick wall.
Moderation is key when it comes to mirroring someone verbally. After all, you’ll be listening more than you’re talking — at least you should be.
Speaking of talking less, this brings us to our second way to mirror.
Mirroring with Your Body
You may not be saying a word, but remember that “70 to 93 percent of all communication is nonverbal.”
Similarly to mirroring with your words, you can also mirror through your facial expressions.
If they are going through something sad, reflect some sadness on your face as well. If they are going through something serious, express a degree of seriousness through your face.
Like many of the tips given, do this subtly. The last thing you want to do is scare your friend away with exaggerated facial mirroring.
To not feel forced or unnatural, tap once again into your empathy for their situation.
You’ve probably felt or seen examples of empathic listening.
When a friend is crying you may feel a tug to cry or find yourself crying too. Same goes when your friend tells you someone was mean to them. Now their anger is yours and you now want to punch that person in the face — don’t do that.
Additionally, you can position your body in a similar way to theirs.
If they are sitting casually, sit in a non-formal way. If they have a more upright posture, sit somewhat more upright. If they have their legs crossed, you can have your ankles crossed.
Think of it as ‘one-sided Simon Says’.
Don’t straight on copy everything the person in front of you is doing. You’re not trying to be a mime here.
Lastly, don’t be afraid to break mirroring your partner. Just like when it comes to our first tip about eye contact (the 50–70 rule), you’re not supposed to do these things 100% of the time. Trust your gut and do what feels right.
Now this one takes a little extra emotional and social intelligence to assess if it’s the right move. Definitely don’t use physical touch to comfort someone you barely know. The only ‘r’ you’re trying to gain is rapport not a restraining order.
Sometimes what your friend needs the most is to simply feel like they aren’t alone. If you are close friends with this person or if this is your partner, holding or placing your hand on theirs as they open up to you can give them a sense of comfort.
A hug when someone is visibly falling apart can also feel extremely supportive.
If you’re unsure if your friend or loved one is okay with physical touch you can always just ask if they want a hug.
Additionally, you can also reflect on how physically touch-y they are on normal days.
Basically if your friend is the type to bear attack hug you with intense vigor whenever they see you, then it’s more likely (but still not a guarantee) that they’ll be open to you giving them a hug when they’re going through something difficult.
Don’t Be Afraid to Ask Them to Repeat Themselves
Sometimes we suddenly remember something in the middle of a conversation and end up missing part of what our friend just said.
Other times what they’re sharing is a lot to take in so we’re still processing. In either case, don’t be afraid to break the conversation to ask your friend to repeat themselves.
It’s better to have them repeat themselves a couple of times in a conversation so that you’re sure you’ve heard 100% of their story, versus never pausing and you’ve only absorbed 80%.
You don’t want to end up in an awkward situation where they ask you, “So what do you think I should do?” when you’ve completely missed the part they were talking about.
Don’t Be Afraid to Ask Questions
Often we have this fear that asking questions will make us look dumb.
On the flip side asking questions can also show your friend how invested you are in their story. When I’m deeply listening to someone I often will ask questions because I want to understand their situation more.
Don’t ask a question just to ask a question. Ask if you mean it and are genuinely curious. Sometimes you don’t have any questions and that’s perfectly fine too.
These tips can seem overwhelming for someone who has never applied these tools, so it is key to use these tips gradually. Like anything new practice will make it feel more natural over time.
Ease into using these different ways at your own pace. The last thing you want to do is look like you’re overthinking your every move.
You can try first practicing maintaining good eye contact. Then move into a little body mirroring. Afterwards your next goal could be mirroring with your words once or twice in the entire conversation.
Remember at the end of the day these are all tools that should be secondary to you first and foremost listening to your friend. It’s all visual proof to your friend because even if you know you’re listening, good intent means nothing if they can’t see it.
This post was previously published on Medium.com.
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