A few days ago I was at my neighborhood Starbucks working on my latest book. Two women were sitting at the table immediately next to mine. Without intending to, I began tuning into their conversation. It became apparent that they were good friends and about 8 years younger than me.
The first woman was lamenting about the challenges of raising her high school son. She shared that she felt frustrated and exhausted from arguing with him about his messy room and lack of initiative to help around the house. Maybe many of you can relate. However, her friend’s response is what was troubling to me.
You see immediately upon hearing her friend’s feelings, she did something you should never do (with feelings); she gave her advice. She told her that she should implement a new policy where her son would agree to clean his room once a month. She continued, by telling her to leave his bedroom door closed, so she didn’t have to see the mess.
I couldn’t help but notice that the first woman had not asked her friend for advice. Instead, she was simply trying to share her heart (what she was thinking and feeling).
I noticed the more advice her friend gave, the more this woman seemed to sink deeper into her chair. It was as if her energy was literally being drained from her body! I so badly wanted to comfort and encourage this exhausted woman.
I wanted to tell her that someday soon her son will likely be living on his own and he’ll figure it out. I wanted to share that I too had experienced frustrations and argued with my children about cleaning their rooms and helping around the house. I would have added, though, that they are now both adults and maintain very tidy residences of their own.
Although I knew that the friend’s suggestion (to implement a new policy about cleaning her son’s room) might be something to consider, that wasn’t what she needed to hear right then.
Instead, because I’ve learned what is most helpful when a friend shares her feelings, my response would have been the following: I would have reassured her that I had heard her. I would have said, “I completely understand what you’re feeling and I’m so sorry. It is challenging to raise high school kids and you have every right to feel the way you do.” Ideally, I would have gone on to ask her to tell me more, providing greater opportunity for her to share what she’d been carrying on her heart.
So how might you respond? More importantly, how do you respond; what do you say to a friend who is expressing her feelings? What if those are feelings of anger, sadness, disappointment or hopelessness?
Do you know that what your friends really need is for you to be an excellent listener? They need you to give them time to share uninterrupted. They need you to give them permission to feel everything they’re feeling. They generally do not need advice –at least at first. They do not need you to share your experiences –at least at that moment. They simply need someone safe and confidential who will listen to them. It may help you to remember that feelings are for feeling, not for fixing.
Give your friends the gift of listening to them and their feelings.