Listening is caring. And caring is healing. How many of us really know how to listen? How many of us feel obligated to offer advice or say something brilliant? We cannot be actively listening if we are busy formulating our response.
Think back to when you last needed to share a problem. Did you want advice, solutions, to be told not to bother about it? My guess is that you were after none of those things. All you really wanted was to air the problem, to get some relief and some healing.
So what is active listening? It certainly involves empathy, which is the ability to enter into the feeling or spirit of another person with appreciation and understanding. Saying “I know how you feel” is singularly unhelpful because we simply cannot know that, however well intentioned we are. Try instead, “I can see that is awful for you.” Or, “It sounds terrible what you are going through” or, if you feel you must, “how can I support you?”
Resist the temptation to hijack the problem by relating a similar one of your own too quickly, in an attempt to show sympathy. Allowing the person to stay with the painful feeling without rushing to the rescue can be hugely challenging. Empathy is thought to be the skill of the saints. It might take you a bit longer to deal with the suffering! So be patient with yourself and the person you are listening to and remember it is not possible to be in the presence of pain and not be profoundly affected by it. You may be well and truly out of our comfort zone but so is the person you are listening to.