When the listener finds expressed feelings painful and difficult to hear, he often steps in and tries to negate the feelings. “Oh, you don’t have to feel that way.” “It’s silly for you to feel that.” “How could you possibly feel that?” “Your feelings make no sense.” This may even represent a well-intentioned attempt to solve the other person’s problem and make him feel better, or it may be an effort to avoid feeling uncomfortable oneself.
In any relationship, the experience of actually being listened to makes an enormous difference in our perception of the relationship’s value. The guide for communication outlined above enables us to express our feelings and engage in intimate dialogue. However crucial verbalizing emotions may be, it is essential to have a guide for listening as well. This poem, which I have considerably modified from its anonymous source, illustrates the potential pitfalls of giving advice when not asked and the rewards of good listening:
Please Just Listen
When I ask you to listen to me and instead you start giving advice, you have not done what I asked, nor heard what I desire.
When I ask you to listen to me and you begin to tell me why I shouldn’t feel what I am feeling, you are trampling on my feelings.
When I ask you to listen to me, and you feel you have to do something to solve my problems, you have failed me—strange as that may seem.
All I ask is that you listen. Not talk, nor “do”—just hear me.
Advice is cheap when not asked for. Fifty cents gets me “Dear Abby” and the astrology forecasts in the same paper.
I can do that for myself.
I am not helpless. Maybe discouraged or faltering—but not helpless.
When you do something for me that I can and must to do for myself,
you contribute to my seeming fearful, weak, or inadequate.
I may feel these things. Don’t act as though my feelings are facts.
When you accept that I feel what I feel, no matter how irrational it seems, I can quit trying to convince you and instead begin to understand what is behind what I am saying and doing—to what I am feeling.
When that is clear, chances are so will the answers be, and I won’t need advice –
Or I will then be ready to hear it! Perhaps that is why for some people prayer works.
God is mute and doesn’t give advice or try to fix what we must do ourselves.
So please listen, just hear me. And if you wish to speak, let’s plan on your turn.
I promise I will listen, too.
Utilizing these guides—one for talking and one for listening—will enrich our emotionally intimate communications with significant others.
Excerpt from Breaking Free: How Chains From Childhood Keep Us From What We Want