Sometimes, simply listening to a friend talk about her problems can be more empowering for your friend than offering advice.
I was headed to the beach for my morning run and I overheard a woman consoling her friend, telling her how horrible she must be feeling and how badly she wished she could fix her friend’s problem. I'm not sure if this is what her friend really needed to hear at the time, and it made me wonder if this type of comment really made the friend feel better—or worse?
I can recall a few times in life when I had someone there for me to offer support or to bounce ideas off of and bring me back into focus. I think of my parents, siblings and closest friends who've been so supportive.
All of us need support from time to time. Have you ever received support from a coach, friend, family member or co-worker that seem to radiate like a beam of sunshine, driving you into the right action? Perhaps this allowed you to move forward and make a decision that you courageously made for yourself—all because you knew you had their support behind whatever choice you made. Maybe it was a result of the right questions a friend asked you at the time, or you just knew you had your family's full support in all your endeavors.
On the flip side, maybe you have shared a dilemma with a friend in hopes of feeling better and adopting a more positive attitude, only to find you felt worse than you did before you opened up to your friend. Your friend may have said something such as, “Oh, you poor thing! I can't believe that happened to you. You must feel just horrible. I wish I could fix that for you.” Your friend's well-meaning intentions of offering sympathy left you feeling down, negative and disempowered.
We've all fallen into the victim mode before, whether we were the one trying to offer sympathy or we were the one receiving it. It can be tempting over-sympathize when someone we care about is suffering; however, this is not positive support.
Instead, we can choose to listen compassionately to someone's dilemma, bring hot soup to a sick friend or offer a fresh perspective on a challenging situation.
The key is when offering support, we want the receiver to feel loved, encouraged and empowered. This way, we are helping them to make a positive choice, take positive action and come out of their situation quickly—not stay stuck.
Here are some tips to help empower someone who is seeking support:
Focus on the person's positive strengths. Choose to help them rise to a higher level by offering empathy and compassion. We can be present for someone's pain or suffering and help them remember their inner strengths and positive resources. Often, this can be the best gift to someone who is struggling. I once told a longtime friend of mine, “You are such a strong, positive person. I know you will pull through this and come out wiser.” You can only imagine how this encouraging comment was the ticket to her finding a re-inspired perspective on her situation and life.
We may understand exactly how someone is feeling because we have gone through a very similar experience before; however, this doesn’t mean we will fix this person’s problem for them. We can feel what they are going through because we've been there, too. We can allow our experience to help empower this person. I recently ran into a friend of mine at a local coffee spot. The last time I had seen her, she was going through one of life's most difficult situations, and I could very much relate, having gone through something similar. I have always seen her as a fully functional human being who will know the next step that needs to be taken. I can recall, at the time she was going through her dilemma, I told her: “I sense your struggling right now, and I'm sorry you have to go through this. What are you going to do?” Now, my friend is happy and has moved on from the challenging situation and seems to be quite positive, wiser and self-empowered.
Listening without judgment offers empathy. We've all been taught to put ourselves in someone else's shoes. Don't, however, try to fix their problem for them. Listening with compassion and allowing them to share their feelings helps them get it out, which may be all they need from you at this time. When you listen, you offer empathy, which can allow them to feel better and choose empowering action, whereas sympathy tends to focus on reacting—sometimes to the point where we take on their feelings and feel their pain. We are not meant to suffer along with others; we need to remember that their painful situations will assist their self-growth.
Asking questions helps them talk more about their feelings and focus on their own solution. Nevertheless, sometimes when we offer advice and solutions, we are not doing them a favor in any way—and we can even make them feel disempowered. No self-growth can take place for them. Instead of telling them what to do, listen, ask a few questions and guide them toward what they feel is the right answer or next step to take. How empowered have you felt when you were in a difficult situation and had the opportunity to express your feelings and come up with your own solution? Remember to do this next time you find yourself in contact with someone who is struggling.
Check in with them. Sending a quick email might help lighten their mood. Remind them to see the humorous side of the situation. Providing humor and encouragement can be an excellent supportive gesture for some of us. I was having a conversation with a friend over dinner, when my friend reminded me to remember the humor in life's challenges. Nevertheless, just as humor can be the therapeutic dose for some, love and positive thoughts can be what is needed for others. Just knowing that someone is thinking positive thoughts about you can be the perfect supportive remedy for some.
Each situation calls for different types of support and encouragement. Often we may not know much about the challenges someone is facing, but offering to be available to listen to them may be all that is needed. Who knows, it might be the best gift we can offer them at the time.
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