Most of us have a natural desire to help others. Seeing someone in distress makes us feel uncomfortable. It triggers our innate desire to help make things better for the other person. Our inner Rescuer pulls us into action:
We make suggestions and offer solutions to the other person’s problems:
Have you thought about doing …?
How about I do ... for you?
We show ‘understanding’ by sharing our own similar experiences:
I know just how you feel.
Something very similar happened to me recently.
We add our ‘wise’ perspective on the matter:
She was probably just trying her best.
I’m sure he didn’t mean any harm by it.
Ironically, there are times when our well-intentioned efforts to make things better can have an unintended impact.
Our need to fix things gives the message that uncomfortable emotions must be ‘solved’ and that certain thoughts and emotions are not acceptable.
Our desire to be helpful and make ‘useful’ suggestions robs the other person of the opportunity to explore their situation for themselves.
Our clever thoughts and insights can leave the other person doubting their own perspective, feeling that they ‘should’ be seeing things in a different way.
Our shared experiences bring the focus of the conversation to ourselves rather than simply allowing the other person to tell their own story.
But what happens if we resist the temptation to rescue?
If we are willing to sit alongside a person in discomfort rather than go into ‘fix it mode’, we give them the message that it’s ‘OK to not feel OK.’
If we trust them to be capable of thinking for themselves we empower them to find their own solutions to their problems.
I call this mindful listening. And I have a metaphor for what needs to happen to listen in this way.
Before offering your listening, you first need to wipe you feet on the lovely Welcome Mat.
In doing so, you wipe away any desire to fix, analyse, change or judge.
Instead, you simply remain curious as the other person explores their thoughts and feelings.
Give them the space to tell their own story in their own way. It may be the greatest gift you give them.
Mindful listening is also a gift that you can give to yourself. ‘Listen’ inwardly with curiosity and acceptance to the whole range of your thoughts and feelings as you bring care and attention to yourself in any given moment.
'I have found it very liberating to wipe my feet on the Welcome Mat. It releases the need for me to find solutions and leaves the other person free to mindfully appreciate what is going on for them.'
PG - entrepreneur
'I've always been a rescuer, so I found mindful listening difficult at first. But it also felt lighter. Rather than carrying the heavy load of helping someone to solve their problem, I was opening the door for them to find their own solutions to their problems.'
CJ - physiotherapist
'Mindful listening has transformed my relationship with my son. I now put my solutions and suggestions to one side, ask him how things are ... listen ... and just let him talk. He tells me so much more about what is going on for him.'
AK - parent