Listening to the Jonahs in Your Life
Is there someone in your life right now who needs to be heard? It is the ultimate gift to listen wholeheartedly to someone in need. But how do we listen in a healthy way, in which we are helpful to others without absorbing their worry, pain or suffering?
Carolyn’s need for a healthy way to listen:
Carolyn’s office mate, Jonah, spent more time lately sharing worries about his ailing mother than getting work done. Knowing that he was going through a tough time, Carolyn began covering for him and wrapping up loose ends on projects. Carolyn lamented that as she worked to become a better listener, her good efforts occasionally backfired. Carolyn left work depressed, allowing herself to feel too much for Jonah and his mother.
Carolyn’s inability to maintain a balance between empathy (“I feel your worry”) and compassion (“I care for you, but to help you better I have to maintain some objectivity or we’ll both suffer”) is why many people shy away from calling family members and friends who are going through a rough patch in their lives. It’s the fear of losing the objectivity, absorbing the pain and avoiding the frustration and resentment that comes from repeating advice that won’t be taken.
How to find the balance? Your homework – watch a movie!
If you like to watch movies, you’re probably pretty good at this. Refresh the perspective of the movie-going experience to help with the Jonahs in your life:
Watching a movie or a virtual reality show gives you a window into a character’s dilemma. Because it’s all about them, you can only observe what they are experiencing. You may get a chill down your spine and imagine their worry, but after the movie is over, after a few minutes you get back to your work as usual. Our Jonahs appreciate that kind of listening where they feel you have forgotten yourself for a few minutes to simply understand their situation. Instead of wallowing with them (not helpful for either party), your attempts to understand and be objective are the best gifts you can give. No need to conjure up advice (they probably didn’t ask for it anyway), but remain like you would as a movie goer − silent and attentive. The silence will give them the space to determine their own solutions. Their situation may make you reflect a bit, but because you’ve kept perspective you can move on unscathed with the rest of your day. Go ahead, do an act of kindness with this perspective in mind and “get into the movie” of someone who needs to be heard.
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