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Mariana Plata
Mariana Plata

How to Listen to Someone Without Judgment

Sometimes just listening is all people need.

Key points

  • Give friends a time and a space in which they can feel valued, seen, heard, and honored.
  • To support a friend, practice empathy and name the feeling.
  • It also helps to ask how your friend wants to be supported.

When a loved one is going through a challenging, sad, or difficult time, it's natural to feel worried. It's natural to want to provide relief or happiness. Though well-intentioned, our efforts can easily lose impact and create an alternate effect. If we're not careful, we might be doing more harm than good—which is why it's important to offer a space to our loved ones going through a difficult time.

A time and a space in which they can feel valued, seen, heard, and honored. Time and space in which, slowly but surely, we can give our loved ones the much-needed support to heal—at their own pace.

Below are some ways in which we can support and listen to our loved ones without judgment:

Open the space to listen—just listen

When you're very angry, irritated, or sad about something, how often do you want to have someone telling you what to do? How often do you want someone else to give you advice? How often do you want someone else to tell you what they did or talk only from their experience? My guess is not very often.

The reason behind this is that when we're feeling particularly down, we just want to vent. We just want to let it out. And that's precisely the first thing our loved ones might need from us: to just listen. Nothing more, nothing less. Just listen.

Practice empathy and name the feeling

After we've listened, a few empathetic responses we can use include:

  • "I'm so sorry you're going through this."
  • "This must be so hard for you."
  • "You must feel really frustrated with all of this."

These simple empathetic responses can help the person feel that their emotions are validated. This, consequently, helps them feel seen, heard, valued, supported and less alone.

Ask them how they want to be supported

As mentioned before, it's natural to feel stressed and worried when supporting a loved one. And, in that stress, we might start to connect in a way that makes us feel less anxious. Rather than exploring what can help them feel more supported.

As Brené Brown mentions, "What's clear is kind, what's unclear is unkind." And, often, asking the other person how they want to be supported, can give us a clear pathway towards our next steps. Don't assume: ask.

Reassure them how important and meaningful they are to you

When someone is going through a hard time, they might start to lose their confidence and self-worth. If this continues through time, they might start to think that other people don't care about them.

Reassuring someone how important and meaningful they are, can be an important piece towards helping someone heal. A simple text message or a phone call that reinforces their value and place in your life can make a huge difference.

Touch base with them often

I cannot stress this one enough: it's important to make an effort. Touching base doesn't have to be awkward. It can start off with sharing a song, movie, quote, or image that reminds you of them, and then slowly transforming the conversation into asking them how they've been and exploring their feelings.

Doing this often is important because it sends a message that says: "I see you, and I'm here for you."

Be a safe space for someone else

Being a safe space means not adding shame, judgment, or guilt into someone else's experience. It means not reacting with the following statements:

  • "You shouldn't feel that way."
  • "It's not a big deal."
  • "You'll get over it."

But, rather, responding with:

  • "This must be tough for you."
  • "Your feelings are valid."
  • "I would feel the same way if it happened to me."

When we take away judgment, shame, or guilt from the narrative, we can openly navigate through all the feelings. No matter how "irrational" or "irrelevant" they might feel, we can begin to honor them and pave the way towards embracing emotionally healthier relationships–both with ourselves, as well as with others.

About the Author
Mariana Plata

Mariana Plata is a psychologist, educator, and mental health writer based in Panama.

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