So many times, when someone comes to us and tells us about their pain, we aren’t sure how to respond. So we say the first thing that comes to mind, which often sounds like advice. For example, we might say, “What you need is some time away” or, “Have you considered reading the book______? It helped me a lot.” This is probably not very helpful to your friend. When a friend is hurting, I suggest you offer listening not advice.

It’s understandable that you’d like to help your friend “fix” their situation. Even so the reality is you can’t fix a hurting friend’s problem, but you can be an empathetic listener.

When you listen well, you:

  • Give your full attention to the one who is hurting
  • Imagine how the person is feeling (Remember when you were perhaps
    in a similar situation.)
  • Listen more than you talk
  • Speak primarily to help the suffering person clarify his or her situation and feelings
  • Do not interject your own problems, situations or solutions

So the next time a friend tells you about his or her suffering, don’t offer advice, offer to care for them by listening.

For an example of what the difference between “advice” and “empathetic listening” sounds like, listen to our three-minute audio presentation in which I give a demonstration via a role-play scenario with my sister Loretta and friend Joyce. Can you hear the difference?

This post is adapted from Karen’s book The Compassionate Congregation.



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