Truly listen. Don’t answer emails or mop the floor while you listen; this is not the time for multi-tasking. If you appear distracted or disinterested while your loved one is spilling his/her heart, you may wind up hurting them even more. Give your loved one your full attention and look them full in the face.
Don’t interrupt. Reply only when necessary, and keep your remarks short. Try to answer them with your facial expressions, or by gently humming “mmm hmm”, but do whatever you need to do to keep them talking and letting it all out. This is all about them, so let them do the talking.
Respect them. Never minimize the situation, or gloss over their problems. Don’t dismiss their fears casually. They aren’t likely to return to you if you don’t respect their feelings when they are vulnerable.
Don’t offer advice. They may ask for it while they are unloading the troubles of their heart, but gently avoid it. Often they don’t really want to hear your advice, even if they ask for it. Most of the time, they don’t really need your advice; they just need to unload – and most likely they already know what they need to do. But if you cannot hold back from giving advice, or if you decide your loved one truly needs some pointing in the right direction, then at the very least, wait until the end to offer your opinions, when your loved one seems to be finished and is good control of his/her emotions.
Don’t be judgmental. Judging their situation/problems often will not help. It’s likely they already have regrets, and they don’t need you to add to their grief and pain. They didn’t come to you to hear about what you think they did wrong.
Show empathy and support. If you become angry or disgusted with your loved one, they will close up their shell and most likely won’t open themselves up to you again. If you wish to become known as a trustworthy, dependable listener, you must be able to control your emotions. Put yourself if their shoes, imagine what they are going through and what they are feeling right now. Show your affection – hold their hand, touch their shoulder, and always hug them at all the right moments.
Be positive. Once they’ve shed all their tears, try to say a few brief things to encourage them and look ahead to more positive times. Avoid saying, “I understand” unless you’ve been in their situation before. They will much more appreciate, “I’m sorry,” and “I want you to know that I’m always here for you.” Let them know that you hope things will look brighter soon. Pray with them. Make the experience be an uplifting one for them.
Follow through. Check up on them a few hours later, or the next day. Send them a quick text message or email, or give them a call. Just tell them you are thinking about them and are hoping that they are doing okay. Let them know you are always available to just sit with them and listen. Offer to take them out for coffee sometime soon. Tell them how they can reach you, and do your best to be available when they need you. Most importantly, don’t forget to tell them, “I love you.”