How can you help someone during the virus crisis? Just listen

We must love one another or die.
                                          From the poem September 1, 1939 by W.H. Auden

As a society, our survival depends on loving each other, but our culture doesn’t know how to do it very well.

Especially now, when there’s so much fear and stress, we need to connect more than ever with each other. 

But we don’t. At least, not as much as we could to make a difference.

Why do most men rarely talk about what’s really going on? We’re inhibited, afraid of looking weak, of being ridiculed. We’re afraid that someone listening to us may shame us, or use what we’re saying against us. Unfortunately, more women are telling me this happens to them too.

One of our greatest needs as humans is to be heard, but as a culture, we don’t know how to listen. That combination of inhibition and poor listening skills means we’re not connecting. Combine social isolation with physical isolation, and that is a toxic mixture, especially in a crisis.

We all know people right now who are struggling—afraid of losing their job, business or even their marriage.

We know that person could really benefit from a conversation.

Yet, we don’t make the call.

‘It would be awkward.’ ‘I don’t know what to say.’ ‘I’m not much of a conversationalist.’ ‘He’ll figure it out.’

Don’t shrink back from making the call. Yes, it’s tough.

But, here’s all you have to do: Just listen.

You don’t need to be entertaining, make the person feel better, provide solutions, dazzle them with stories, or show how smart you are. Just listen.

Here’s my thoughts on how to be a great listener:

  • When you connect, make a pact among yourselves that everything you both say is 100% confidential. Stake your reputation to it. Your word is your bond. This creates safety.
  • Ask simple, open-ended questions such as ‘What’s going on?’ ‘What are you doing?’ ‘What’s on our mind.’ The traditional ‘How are you’ is useless. Most people will habitually say, ‘Fine’ and then you’re mostly stuck.  
  • Listen without making judgments. Just allow the person to talk; create space for their words to pour out. The moment you make a judgement, the person stops freely accessing their own thoughts and feelings. Stay out of the way.
  • Avoid asking ‘why?’ Instinctually, most people will clam up, and become self-conscious. When you ask why, it is usually based on your judgment that the person did something wrong, or made a choice you don’t agree with.   
  • Don’t probe like a detective or try to be a therapist. If you think it would be helpful for the person to say more, you could simply say, ‘Tell me more.’ ‘Is there more that you’d like to tell me?’ Accept without debate what the person wants. Your job is to simply listen. This leaves the speaker feeling safe and in control.
  • You don’t need to do anything more complicated than acknowledge what you hear. ‘Oh wow.’ ‘That was powerful, eh? ‘I get it.’ ‘I hear you.’ ‘Sure.’  
  • Be empathic. ‘That would suck.’ ‘Ouch.’ ‘So, you were angry, right? This shows you are feeling what they are feeling. This is crucial part of being heard. ‘Oh, he really gets what I’m going through.’
  • Don’t editorialize, diminish, counter or challenge. You may be trying to help by saying something like ‘She didn’t mean that.’ ‘You can’t believe that.’ ‘It’s not that bad.’ But this denies the person’s experience and what he or she is feeling. They may shut up and  launch into self-judgment.
  • Similarly, avoid fixing, giving advice or “shoulding.” Your role is simply to accept without judgment what’s the person is saying. This allows them to work through their thoughts and feelings, and come to their own insights and solutions, which will ultimately serve them. Only give advice if someone asks for it.

These are the core skills of listening that I’ve learned over the years as a coach and a leader in the ManKind Project

But you don’t need to be a listening expert to make that call. Don’t overthink it. 

I would just like you to think about making a call to someone who might need it, and to fight through your own fear and resistance, and make the call.

I can almost guarantee that the person will be extremely grateful and perhaps feel  a bit better, and that you will feel good knowing you showed some care and compassion.

If that’s not enough to make you call, consider what it would be like to answer your phone, and someone said, ‘I was thinking about you … ‘

We must love one another or die.

About Tim O'Connor

Tim O'Connor is a golf coach, an award-winning writer, and speaker. Tim takes a holistic approach, coaching golfers in the physical and mental aspects of golf. He co-hosts the Swing Thoughts podcast with Howard Glassman, and is the author of The Feeling of Greatness: The Moe Norman Story. He plays bass in CID—a Guelph punk band!