Just Needing To Talk
Just Needing To Talk
Dear Tacit,

My partner is not great at knowing how to support me when I need to unload after a long hard day. It ends up being frustrating for us both – any pointers?

Signed: Just Needing To Talk

Dear Just Needing To Talk,

Knowing how to have a successful “sharing” conversation is a key aspect of any healthy, close relationship – whether it is between partners, friends, parents/children, or colleagues.  When we open up to someone else about how we are feeling, we are being emotionally vulnerable. We are showing the other person that we trust them with our true, authentic self (usually uncensored in that moment) and we need their acceptance and understanding.  It’s a risk that requires a supportive and empathetic return.  The goal of this type of conversation is often to allow us to reduce our stress by way of an emotional release.

Usually, the person who is doing the listening has great intentions.  They want to be kind and helpful.  They want to make us feel better if we are upset; or share with us if we are feeling upbeat and positive.  But sometimes, their response focuses more on trying to “fix” things (giving advice, reminding us of the brighter side, as they try to help us pass through our negative feelings faster) or to “align” themselves with what we are expressing (telling us about their own similar situations so we understand that they understand).  And the support they offer can be received more like judgement or direction.  Sometimes we (as the speaker) are inadvertently pushed into a listening role.  And so, we end up shutting down (maybe feeling more hurt/upset and alone).

Here are some suggestions for how to be present and attentive as the listener, in a “sharing” conversation.  Remember that it is the listeners job to be a validating sounding board.  To validate means to emotionally understand, without agreeing/disagreeing with the person’s opinion about whatever they are expressing.  Validation is about appreciating what the other person is saying from their perspective (feelings, thoughts, needs) – not trying to change the speaker’s perspective so they can see the bigger picture.

As the listener:

Show interest in what is being said.  Ask questions, stay focused on the conversation, and demonstrate engagement by making comments that show you are truly present in that moment (nod, say mmhhhmm, maintain eye contact, etc);

Demonstrate empathy.  Rephrase, summarize and express affection/caring about what the speaker is sharing;

Be a cheerleader.  Make sure your comments show that you are an ally with the speaker (this is NOT the time to play devil’s advocate and help the speaker consider someone else’s perspective);

Give the speaker permission to have their emotions, no matter what they might be feeling.  The listener’s role is to allow the speaker to vent and purge the buildup of emotional baggage they have been storing all day, so they can let it go forever.  Be understanding and non-judgemental;

Wait until the speaker has calmed down (they might take a few deep breaths or show that they have collected themselves after their emotional unload) before you ask them if they would like any advice, suggestions or feedback about what you have heard.  Don’t just offer it, unsolicited.

Often, the value of the “sharing” conversation comes solely from the process of sharing itself.  It does not always have to become a moment to prompt growth and learning.  The listener IS helping a great deal by just caring enough to be present and by supportively hearing/trying to understand what is being expressed.  There is no need to “fix” the speaker.  They will likely be just fine managing their own needs by themselves, after they have had their emotional release.  (As the listener, if you are unsure about whether the speaker can do this, or if you perhaps want to offer more support, feel free to ask things like “what do you need right now?” or “is there anything I can do to help you at this point?)

Take care!

Have a question? Please feel free to reach out to us at counsellors@tacitknows.com. Your answer will be provided confidentially. 

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