This past week, I've listened to several people who are dealing with loss and needed to just vent awhile, with nothing from the peanut gallery — me.
I was so thankful for the course I took at GU during my pastoral ministry studies, titled “Pastoral Counseling.”
It basically taught me that all I was doing up to that time when people shared their problems was not helpful at all. So here's my primer on listening to grief, learned from doing everything wrong before.
1) Just listen. And then listen some more. When dealing with crisis, or loss, or unexpected bad news, people need to sort it out verbally, without distractions.
I used to interrupt people with questions, because I was curious about some details of their story (speaking here about listening as a friend, not in my journalism role.) But the questions become distractions and the helpful process of “venting” is cut short.
2) Don't give any advice unless specifically asked.
3) Don't counter with your own stories of similar tragedies or losses. Your intentions, like mine were, are likely good. You want the person to know that you understand what they are saying. But they don't really care about so and so who had a similar experience. They want to talk about theirs.
4) Don't try to “solve” the situation. We jump to problem solving as a defense, because sometimes what we are listening to is hard to hear. But our fixes likely aren't what is needed. The person experiencing the loss will eventually figure things out.
5) Just listen. And listen some more. It's the best gift you can give someone in a time of crisis.