Picture it! You’re stressed to the max. You’ve muddled over your issue of the week for days. You’ve chosen to isolate yourself because maybe this time, this is an issue that just requires some meditation, solitude, research or a combination of all of it. Then one day, you answer the phone – because even you’re tired of your funk – hoping that the person on the other side of the phone can provide solace. And instead of getting a listening ear, you get … a lecture!
Can I tell you about me? Most things I can figure out on my own. And for any issue I can’t, I have a digital rolodex of contacts that I can call upon. But sometimes, I don’t have the answers, and I don’t have a resource. Yet, as a mom, a daughter, a partner, a sister and a confidante, I, too, feel like I have the weight of the world on my shoulders. Or the weight of my family. Or the weight of my career. Therefore, sometimes instead of a resource, I just want to someone to vent to. Does that mean compromise your own emotional well-being to placate me? No. I’d never want to FORCE anyone to go through the emotional labor of a venting session with me. But, it does mean that if you allow me vent, consider sparing me the lecture; just listen to me. Resist the urge to immediately tell me what to do.
Many times, unless I’m calling to shoot the shit, I don’t want an entire monologue about why I need to figure my life out. Or why I have so much potential. Or why things aren’t as bad as I’m making them. Or why other people have it worst. Or why it’s not really that big of a deal. Or why my approach won’t work. Or understand that I just need to talk this through with someone. Sometimes I just want to complain out loud, and have someone tell me that it’s okay to be frustrated.
Let’s think about what happens when you give people room to vent.
Firstly, and most importantly, let’s make sure you’re listening because that’s what’s being asked of you, not listening to respond. But as far as the venting process, by choosing to listen, you leave room for people to communicate facts, as they understand them, and you reduce the possibility of overwhelming them and exacerbating an already emotionally charged situation. And you give them room to figure out things on their own. It’s probably why therapists hardly ever tell you what to do when you ask. Because when you understand that listening is just as important as offering advice, you understand that by doing so, you give people time to figure out the solutions to their own problems.
I’m working on this approach with my friendships and relationships right now. It’s as simple as waiting for the person TO FINISH! And then asking, “do you want some advice?” The person on the other end usually responds with “Sure,” or something along the lines of “Not right now” or “I was just calling to vent and get that off my chest.” But if the dynamic of the conversation changes and I become the person doing lots of speaking, I have to make sure to consider the vulnerabilities and emotions and energies at play, and adjust my communication style. And periodically asking, “How does that sound to you?” This gives people time to evaluate whether they want to consider the advice or even carry on with the conversation. It gives them a chance to respond and have those responses validated. It invites the opportunity for two-way communication. A lecture on the other hand comes across as a one-way conversation. It’s all intent, and no concern about impact. When really if a person is coming to you about something vulnerable, the last thing they need is someone who is careless with their response.
So, dear friends, I love you all. But sometimes I just cannot deal with y’all. Because you want to be right all the got-damn time. And you pretend to engage in two-way conversations, but really it’s a self-righteous rush of words and opinions that may not have been asked of you. I implore you, resist the urge to lecture. Resist the urge to have a response to everything. And if you can’t simply listen, do us both a favor and let that be known so that everyone can find other methods of getting their needs attended to.