My Friend Doesn’t Know How To Actively Listen, Do You?

I have been suffering from chronic fatigue for many years. And that’s the way it is.

Sometimes, it sucks more than usual.

Sometimes, I need to share how it sucks with a good friend of mine.

In that very case, I don’t need advice. I don’t need feedback. I don’t need to be rescued, nor to feel better. I simply need to share my burden for a short while with someone who knows how to listen, so he can hear me. So he can see me.

I recently had one of these “life sucks” moments, and during one of my usual visits to a close friend of mine, I felt the need to share with him.

But sometimes, the universe doesn’t deliver what you need. And that’s the way it is.

Indeed, instead of taking time to listen to me calmly, my friend quite quickly said:

  1. “Oh, but winter is coming now, it’s the season”.
  2. “And by the way, what you should do, is to follow what works for me, which is blah-blah-X”.

All of a sudden, I felt irritated.

First, he didn’t acknowledge my burden, since my issue had nothing to do with winter, what he already knew.

Second, I now had to argue with him about blah-blah-X, which I had been seriously experimenting in the past without good outcomes, what he already knew as well.

Sometimes, just be present, and resist the urge to talk man

That’s what I have been telling myself for a few years now, when I started to practise being more present, in the moment.

It is also a very important principle to hold on if we want to actively listen to someone.

However, it is more complicated to practise than it looks like.

Indeed, here is what I believe happened in my friend when I started to share my story to him:

  1. He knew already about my long-lasting fight against chronic fatigue, and therefore, sharing my burden about it made his body feel uncomfortable. Indeed, in the moment, he was most likely feeling a bit of what I was feeling, and he wanted to run away from his discomfort right away (“Oh, but it’s because of the season”, problem solved, feels better).
  2. His rational mind didn’t understand why after so many years, I still hadn’t managed to fix my condition despite the fact that I had been searching and experimenting in so many directions. No, we don’t understand. Maybe we will. Maybe we won’t. At that stage though, it turns out nobody really understands. And that’s the way it is. But his mind, and his inflated ego at this very moment, couldn’t live with that, even just for a short while (“Oh, and I know how to fix you of course, and I gonna give you a lot of irrelevant information you didn’t ask for”).

Both these reactions are unconscious. He was not aware of what was happening in his body and mind in the moment.

He couldn’t allow to calmly hold space for actively listening to what I had to share at a deeper level, between my words, and beyond my story.

Indeed, actively listening to someone means to put yourself in a relaxed state of being, so you can hold space and be more receptive to nonverbal aspects of communication. The latter refers to eye contact, tone of voice, gestures and body language, or facial expressions through many small muscles all around our face. That’s a way how speaker’s emotions are conveyed to the listener.

It turns out that communication between human beings is mainly implemented by these nonverbal, unconscious aspects, and much more than by mere language actually.

Actively listening doesn’t mean that we need to monitor all these nonverbal aspects constantly, it is mainly done unconsciously anyways.

It rather means that we need to put ourself in a relaxed and gentle state of self-awareness, in which we softly listen to what is being said while being aware of what’s happening, and constantly changing, in our body and in our mind.

And as we are actively listening, if something triggers an emotional reaction in us, we can stay with it without judging it, nor putting labels on it, and by resisting the urge to run away from it, even if it’s uncomfortable.

And when our ego-mind is triggered, e.g., because we feel the urge to say something smart, or to correct or rescue the speaker, make inner judgments about what he’s saying, or start to construct the best answer we want to provide when it will be our turn to talk, we can simply observe mindfully, and gently come back to our relaxed and gentle state of body-mind awareness.

Listening and observing, instead of reacting.

It requires emotional intelligence and consciousness to reach such a state of active listening, and to keep it during an interaction.

It takes inner resources as well.

I believe it is sometimes important to practise though.

And it is also a great tool to learn about ourselves.

You can start here.

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