One of the most valuable lessons I have learned in school was from my Abnormal Psychology professor. He was a clinical psychologist and an overall neat guy who brought a lot of insight into his class about the work of a clinician. One of the biggest lessons he taught us was not how to treat bipolar disorder or how to diagnose depression, but rather how to listen.
When someone is telling you about an issue or a problem in their life, the best thing you can do for them is to shut the hell up and listen. Don’t talk. Don’t give advice. Don’t tell them how to deal with it. Just listen. Nod your head a little. Offer support, not solutions. Don’t presume to know everything about the issue; you don’t. Don’t try to act like their problem isn’t important; it is. Just be quiet. Let them talk.
They didn’t come to you for answers. And unless they specifically say, “How do you think I should deal with this?” they don’t want to know. All they want is to get something off their chest, get a little bit of support and reassurance from a friend, and find some empathy from someone they trust. Don’t take it as an opportunity to act like a know-it-all fix-it-man.
It’s the most frustrating thing to confide a problem with a friend only to have them act like the solution is so obvious and simple a chimpanzee could have addressed it by now. It’s insulting. Do you honestly think I’m so stupid that I can’t figure out how to solve my own issues? Do you think that because the issue is fixable that it is somehow less upsetting and stressful? I wish people would understand that their advice is misguided. And it’s very hard to tell a valued friend that you don’t really want their advice, because that comes off as rude. All I want is to confide in someone and have them listen.
Replying to anyone’s problem with, “Well, why don’t you just…” is presumptuous at best. Did you think I hadn’t thought of that? If it was “just” that simple, would we be here now? The answer is no. So hush up and listen.