When you’re spending hours upon hours with people in your life, from family members in the home to colleagues at work, you can sense when things change. Perhaps they’re no longer as chatty as they once were or maybe you’ve spotted them with a frown more often than not. While your instinct might be to ask them what’s wrong, you won’t always receive a reply that will satisfy your curiosity.
In order to encourage someone to open up to you, you must understand the following: it’s not about you. It sounds simple, but it is much harder in practice.
Firstly, you need to be willing to be open-minded.
We all have different opinions and in order for someone to feel comfortable opening up to you, they need to know you are ready for a discussion free from judgement. This means you need to allow your conversations to be considered a free and open space where they can trust that your concern is first and foremost for their well-being.
Secondly, don’t try to be understood, instead try to understand.
Listen to what is being said and practise empathy. It’s not your responsibility to defend or to problem solve, but it is your position as a friend or family member to support. Do that by really listening to their concerns with an open mind and heart.
Thirdly, be patient.
If someone isn’t ready to share their personal experiences or thoughts with you, it’s usually for a good reason. Instead, ensure they know you are available for support if they need it. Do not pry and force someone to open up to you, as it will only push them away further.
Lastly, thank the person for confiding in you.
Even if what they’ve expressed is not the outcome you were expecting. If someone does open up to you, they should feel listened to and as though their thoughts and feelings are validated. By thanking them for opening up, it fosters a positive relationship where they will remember your support in the future, leaving them more likely to open up to you again.
It’s important to remember that in order to best understand and support others, we need to understand ourselves. If you’re interested in understanding yourself and your relationships with others better, meditation practice and individual relationship counselling is a great place to begin your journey of mindfulness.