I want to put forward a question for you—how open are you to vulnerability?
I hear a lot of people encouraging others to share their problems. People always talk about supporting others and being there for them, but how open are we really?
Ever wondered why your close friend is upset but never opens up, even after you have genuinely asked them what’s wrong? Or why your acquaintance at the gym avoids talking to you after that one time she opened up about her suicidal thoughts? Or why sometimes when you know someone’s secret they pass a weird smile and never talk to you again, despite your politeness? Or how your classmate won’t make eye contact with you after having cried in front of you?
We have slowly started to develop a mindset that vulnerability makes us less attractive or makes us look fragile when we’re only supposed to appear tough.
I want to mention some tips that you should consider as an active listener. These tips can go a long way in helping those around us feel more comfortable when they decide to open up and become vulnerable.
Ten Tips for Active Listening
Don’t push people to share, just let them know you are there. As a listener, you need to understand that it takes time for a person to open up and be comfortable with you. There are many reasons for it—maybe they have been betrayed in the past or it’s their personality trait. If you push them hard at first, you might block them from ever opening up. Although you might have great intentions, added pressure can trigger certain people. Be patient, let them take their time. Let them share and prioritize their comfort. If they are not ready to mention details, don’t push them—it’s not a police investigation. Also, remember that some people consider eye contact to be confrontational, so try to be mindful about that.
Healing Looks Different for Everyone
Try to understand that the healing process takes time and is different for everyone. It’s okay if they feel the pain of something that happened to them a long time ago—that doesn’t discount what they’re feeling. Excessive use of social media has built a mindset that everyone should be happy at all times. While in reality, feeling sad is good because that’s the indicator that something in your life needs to change. That doesn’t mean that the change will happen overnight.
Don’t Label or Judge
Doing so makes it difficult for them to embrace their past and learn from it. It pushes them to think about the past more. Unless someone finds power in their label, labels can often cast judgment and stigma.
No To-Do Lists
They aren’t here seeking advice, they are here to be heard. When you start giving them solutions to their problems, it might feel like you are abandoning them. They are not at a doctor who would listen to their symptoms and prescribe them drugs, so be conscious of this behaviour. Remember that everyone has their own journey. What worked for you might not work for them. Healing is not a “one size fits all” solution—try to be mindful of this when you’re listening to someone’s problems.
Use Positive Reinforcement
During the gloom state, we often focus on the negatives—everything that’s good goes out of focus. Gently reminding them of their abilities and giving them motivation is a way in which you can help them feel better.
Let Them Speak
Let them speak first—don’t cut them off. People often look for validation of their emotions and they sometimes tend to feel as if they are feeling something abnormal or taboo. Try to offer validation once they have taken a pause from talking. Allowing others to speak without interjection is the basic foundation of feeling heard.
Kindness and Empathy Go a Long Way
Be kind. Be empathetic. Try not to say things like “I went through this” or “everything will be fine.” Sentiments like these disregard others’ emotions or experiences.
Give Them Space
Sometimes while we vent, suppressed emotions are triggered and maybe the person needs more time before they are ready to accept it. Maybe they have recognized one of their faults and they might need time to process it. Maybe they burst into tears last time while venting and now all their negative thoughts are stopping them. Offering space will allow them to process these emotions without any added pressure.
Ditch the Distractions
Make them feel like they are important and they have your undivided attention. Don’t use your phone, scroll, or reply to every text you receive. Try not to use your phone while they excuse themselves to the restroom. It can make them feel unimportant. Keep your phone completely aside, and try putting it out of sight. Only take urgent calls.
Accept and Forgive
If you are actively listening, you’ll have to be ready to accept and forgive. Sometimes we ask people to open up and speak but we aren’t ready to accept it. This is a risk you must be willing to take. Before you listen, make sure your needs are taken care of so that you have space to accept and forgive.
When you are active listening, remind them life is the most beautiful gift they have, and being vulnerable is courageous. Try to guide them down the path instead of making them walk on it. Letting them decide which way they want to head towards is the greatest gift you can offer.