We are in an age of digital connection where everyone declares their own thoughts and happenings while we respond to others with a dismissive click of likes, thumbs up and heart emojis. We are fooled into believing we are interacting when we are just talking at each other without really absorbing or caring what other people are expressing to us. We are left without fulfillment no matter how much we text or message because our need for being heard has not really been met. Basic active listening skills can remind us how to be really engaged with our friends. Meaningful engagement is particularly necessary for those of us struggling with chronic illnesses. Here are some tips you can share with your friends on how to actively listen and engage with each other. You can ask your friends to commit with you to utilize these types of strategies when communicating.
Active Listening implies that the participants are not passively letting the other person talk, but are actually hearing, absorbing and processing the other person’s thoughts, emotions and feelings. To show someone you are actively listening to them you respond in ways that demonstrates you understand, or want to understand what the are saying. There are a variety of way you can do this.
Repeating back what someone has said can show you have heard what they communicated. You do not simply want to recite back what they said, but paraphrase what you understood their thoughts to be. This can help clarify if you understood what the person was trying to express in addition to demonstrating your hearing them.
For example, if your friend says “I had a really rough day, I didn’t sleep well because of pain and then I locked my keys in the car.” Instead of saying simply saying “I’m sorry to hear that” or “That sucks” you can add “Locking your keys in the car is a real pain and on top of being so tired you must be completely worn out!”
This example shows the person you understand the aspects of their situation and grasp the extent of what they are dealing with.
Asking Follow Up Questions
Asking for more details about something someone has told you communicates your interest in the person and what they are saying. For the example above you might add “Locking your keys in the car is a real pain and on top of being so tired you must be completely worn out!” “Were you able to retrieve your keys and get home ok?” This shows your overall concern for their well-being as well as the situation at hand. Another example of utilizing follow up questions might be:
“I was finally feeling well enough to go out today, I took a little walk and had coffee with my niece”
“That’s great, I’m so happy you were able to get some fresh air!” “I didn’t know you had a niece, are you two close?”
Being Patient and Waiting your Turn
Social Media has conditioned us to be thinking about ourselves first. There can be a strong urge to find a way to move a conversation to your struggles when someone communicates something they need to share with you. It’s important to spend adequate time letting someone express their feelings before you share your own. Rephrasing what someone has told you and asking follow up questions will slow you down and help ensure you are being fair to your friend. If it feels right, you might even ask “Is there anything else you’d like to share, I really need to talk about my day as well, but don’t want to cut you off?” Of course, when you share with your friend you should except the same courtesy of active listening that you have utilized.
On the surface, telling someone you can relate seems empathic. Unfortunately, it is often dismissive and moves the conversation away from the person talking. If I friend says:
“I had a really rough day, I didn’t sleep well because of pain and then I locked my keys in the car.”
Be careful to not reply with something like:
“That blows. I locked myself out of my car last month and it was a nightmare! It was late, I was tired and I had to wait outside for the Auto Club for 45 minutes! Now I double check I have my keys when I leave my car so that doesn’t happen to me again!”
Take Stock of your Friendships
If you find it difficult to step up your level of engagement with someone it might be time to assess the relationship. If you truly are not interested learning more about your friend or if it feels laborious to ask them follow up questions, then it might ultimately be kinder to let the relationship go. This will free up that person’s time so that they can find the type of friendship we all deserve. You also want to make sure you are not “breadcrumbing” your friend, feigning interest with short replies to their communications so that you can share your own. Likewise, if you feel unfulfilled by your friendships it might be best to move on.
If you have been feeling unfulfilled by your friendships, examine your communication. Look back on messages and pay attention during future conversations. If you find a lack of active listening between the two of you consider if it might be beneficial to talk about how you support each other or if the relationship is right at all. As Chargie we have to be so careful with the precious amount of energy we have to expend. Make sure the energy you put into your friendship is reciprocated and that the relationship is healthy for your well-being!
About the Author
Rebecca is a free spirit, idealist and dreamer who lives resiliently with fibromyalgia. She lives for sunny days when she feels well enough to make it to the lake.