When you want to talk about important issues, you aren’t necessarily looking for advice. But how many times have you heard someone else’s opinion on what you should do with your life — even when that doesn’t help sort out your deeper ideas and emotions?
Telling people what to do is easy; truly listening to someone in search of a personal truth is hard work. It requires the listener to let go of the natural impulse to solve problems. We are doing something vitally important by just being here; there’s no need to direct someone else’s life-movie.
Sometimes casual listeners are not even aware they have stepped into the role of director. But saying things to make you “feel better” about painful issues or providing their “perspective” on your situation actually moves the conversation away from your intensely personal exploration. Directive listening derails the process of understanding; supportive listening clears the tracks to personal enlightenment.
It takes time, space and conversational support for anyone to feel that he or she has truly been heard. Listeners need to know when someone is looking for advice and when what that person really needs is someone to relate to in the present, in a non-judgmental way. Talking to someone who listens with caring and clarity of vision puts you back in the director’s chair in your own life.
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