Friday, September 3, 2010

Listening: The First Step of Encouragement

When you see that someone is discouraged or upset, you may be tempted to dispense advice or try to solve their problem. Neither of these responses is helpful to the other person and could actually result in a negative reaction. Instead, if you really want to be an encourager to someone you care about, start with listening.

The goal of listening is to convince the discouraged individual that you understand his situation and how he feels about it. This is important, because if he doesn’t believe this, he won’t accept your encouragement.

Focus your full, undivided attention on the other person. Make him feel that he’s the only person in your world at that moment. This means steady eye contact and no distractions.

Invite him to open up. If he wants to vent his frustrations, let him. Pay attention to his tone of voice and body language. This will tell you more about the level of discouragement than the words themselves. Even though you may sense that he’s over-reacting, you must NOT say so. Just let him express his feelings about the situation – without criticism or judgment. Otherwise, he will shut down. Open the conversation with something like:
“You don’t seem like yourself today. Want to talk about it?”
As you hear what he’s trying to say, check to be sure you understand. Say back what you believe he meant.
“So you’ve been working on this steady for five weeks and now you feel that all this work may have been for nothing.”
And don’t deny the reality of the situation. If you say something shallow like, “You shouldn’t feel that way,” or “It’s no big deal,” you’ll lose credibility.
“You sound pretty upset. I know you feel bad about what happened, and you wish you didn’t have to deal with this on top of everything else. And for the moment you’re not sure what to do about it.”
You’ll be amazed at how people will open up to you when they sense that you’re genuinely interested in how they’re doing and you demonstrate empathy with their situation.


  1. A lovely post. I was just thinking about that:

  2. Thanks for your feedback, working girl. I read your post and like your suggestions for showing compassion to others. You're right, we can all make a difference in our own small world if we take baby steps.

  3. Looking forward to learning about the next step of encouragement! :)

  4. Yes, listening should be the instinctive response, if you want to be compassionate. When discouraged, EVERYBODY needs someone who will really listen. Only a tiny percentage of people welcome advice.

  5. Mary, yes there are 3 other primary steps. Stay tuned!

    Denny, it's very true that most people want to be listened to when they're discouraged. It takes a while to move naturally into that mode if one's habit has been to give advice, but it's worth it if you want to deepen your relationships.

  6. Thanks Mary for the wonderful reminder of the healing power of listening! We all need a supportive ear, no judgement, no advice, but pure listening...Would you like to have a guest post in my site?

  7. This is great advice. I hope I can be a better listener. Thanks


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