I call it therapist mode.
In therapist school we called it “active listening,” meaning listen to understand, not necessarily to comment. And, if necessary, in an opportune moment repeat what they said back to them so they KNOW you were listening.
One of the credos that stuck with me when I was involved with the Red Cross Disaster Mental health Division was, “Don’t just say something…..stand there!” In other words: don’t talk, just be present and listen.
In any crisis people want to be heard, not given advice, sympathetic prose, or anecdotal stories about how the same thing happened to you, or someone you know.
It is about them processing trauma, and eventually they may also express their needs. And those needs will only become evident to us over time when we have made sure we have listened well.
At the time of writing this we, as most of the planet Earth, are entering our third month of New Normal pandemic protocols. We are all dealing with some level of adjustment. As my wife and CEO said early on, there are very few (if any) things we do that are not affected by the new way of being.
For example, we live in a relatively rural part of the world, and we work out of our home, so we, no doubt, have a different experience than people who live in urban areas with neighbors beside, above, and below them.
Going for an unmasked walk in the park is most likely much easier for Dawn and me than for someone smack in the middle of Manhattan. These people most likely will need much more being listened to, rather than being the listener.
People have lost family members, have been laid off from their jobs, sheltering in place wherever they happened to be (rather than their home) when the decree came down. There are multitudes of other scenarios, many of which we cannot imagine. People in these circumstances will most likely be experiencing stress levels in the 7, 8, and 9s on the 1 to 10 scale.
It is very important for us to stand there and listen when we encounter those who have had these kinds of stressors in their current lives.
Here are a few things about active listening that are important to remember:
- Be sure they know you are getting what they are saying. Eye contact, head nod, and appropriate body language reactions to what you are hearing will help with this.
- Fight the urge to comment. Think about whether a comment from you is really going to help, or is it more for you to relieve some of your own tension? (Which could actually create more tension because of interrupting the flow of their process.)
- If you talk at all, lead with either “I am hearing you say…..” or ask for a clarification or more detail about a particular part of what you heard. In other words keep it about them, even when you are speaking.
This kind of interaction often makes a major difference for a person’s well being because often your active listening session may be the first time in quite a while anyone has had the patience and bandwidth to override his or her own problems and just be there.