On a sunny Saturday afternoon, the familiar chirp of a text nudges me to check my phone: “Do you have time for a walk?” Twenty minutes later, I pull on my hideous (yet delightfully cushioned) Hokas, leash up my dogs, and head out the front door for a stroll.
As we roam through neighborhoods, my friend shares that she’s feeling a bit prickly after her son’s latest sporting event. He was benched most of the game for presumably crossing the coach. Naturally, she feels protective of her child. In her eyes, the consequence was not right or reasonable.
“I’m sorry that happened,” I say… and that’s where I should have left it. However, as a former athlete with a few benches under my bum—and some for the occasional spiciness or stink eye—I find it challenging to listen openly and objectively. And so, I give her some advice.
I say something along the lines of looking at the experience as a learning opportunity. And, I essentially imply that perhaps her son did dish out some sass and earn a seated consequence (cringe). Or, maybe he simply got schooled in the sad reality that not all coaches are fair or even good. There’s a lesson in there somewhere, I reassure her.
When I stop rambling and start listening…I can tell—in my companion’s words and body language—that my wisdom didn’t land well. And why would it? She didn’t ask for my input; she was simply getting something off her chest.
Catching my fumble, I put my bum on the bench for a time out. I apologize for assuming she was seeking feedback and solutions. Instead, I could have asked:
“Do you need comfort or counsel?”
In other words, I should have looked to the storyteller for guidance on how to best offer support. Did she just want to vent? Need a shoulder to lean on? Some suggestions on how to deal with the situation?
Then, I could have given her just what she needed in that moment, which is all I wanted to do in the first place.
Comfort or Counsel?
It’s challenging—especially for those of us in helping roles and professions—to Just. Simply. Listen. And, if we really want to help someone we care about, the best course of action is…well…up to that someone.
When your friend/spouse/child/coworker/fill-in-the-blank shares a story or struggle with you, try responding with one of the following questions:
- Do you want to be heard, helped, or hugged?
- Do you need comfort or solutions?
- Do you want me to listen or offer advice?
And then give them the support they need in that moment.