When someone tells you about some challenge they are having, what do you do? Do you feel the need to fix it? Empathize? Chime in? And when you do this, does the other person ever get mad at you? What’s that’s all about?!
Well, the truth is, most of the time people don’t want us to solve things for them. In fact, sometimes we can be of greatest service by just being with them and holding the space. In general, we are a lot better at talking than we are at listening, and we also want to feel useful. But when you combine that desire to help with all that talking, often the result is jumping in to help where it may not be wanted.
The power of holding space
A while back, I was getting ready to do something I had never done before, and it had me kind of freaked out. I woke feeling unsettled and anxious the morning I was supposed to start. I had this tightness in my chest and a lump in my throat. After more than an hour of just wishing it away, I realized I needed to do something. I decided it would be helpful to talk to someone, so I overrode my insecurities about not wanting to bother my busy friends, and I called my friend Sue. She didn’t answer, so I left a message.
Then I called another friend, Liza, and said “I’m feeling really anxious, and I just need to talk for a minute.” I explained what I was doing and that I was unsettled and feeling icky. After listening and pausing, she said, “Oh Darcy, I get it. It sounds like you’re nervous, and of course you are. This is something new and scary. That totally makes sense, and I know the feeling you’re talking about.” And then she asked, “So how are you doing? What do you need?” I replied, “I think I just need to talk through it and honor these feelings.”
And she did. She held the space, honored my feelings, and served as a witness in my unsettled state. She didn’t try to solve or fix anything; she just created space to listen. Then she said, “You sound lighter. Good for you. I don’t think I could do what you’re doing, but I know you can!” It was just what I needed. So I hung up the phone feeling so much better. The heaviness that was weighing me down had lifted.
Resist the urge to fix
A little later, my friend Sue called back, and I explained what was going on. I barely finished before she started trying to fix it. First she told me not to go, then she offered to come with me. This went on for a while, with more suggestions, more fixing, and very little listening. She was coming from a place of deep heart and compassion clearly wanting so badly to be there for me. But instead, I felt a little judged and defensive. Then the self doubt crept in. Maybe I wasn’t doing the right thing. Maybe I shouldn’t be going to this new thing after all. It felt like she was trying to fix something that I had come to peace with that didn’t need to be fixed. Ironically, I started to feel unsettled again.
Find stillness together
There is great value in finding stillness for yourself, but you can also step into stillness when a friend calls and says ‘I’ve got this thing going on’, by just being a witness. Get curious and ask what they need, instead of assuming you need to fix it somehow. Often the greatest value we can provide is to just be with people and create space. I also try to use my coaching skills and reflect what I am hearing, as sometimes hearing your own words can help you find clarity. This is hard! First, I want people to feel better, so I want to help them fix it. AND, sometimes the answer feels so clear to me, that I can hardly resist the urge to say ‘just do this!’. Can you relate?
Thoughtfully Fit can help you use tools like this to improve your relationships. Get curious, ask thoughtful questions, be present, and hold the space. This is essential to your own well-being as well as being of service to others. And here’s the magic: once you let go of feeling like you need all the answers, you can settle in, relax, and just BE a good friend.
Watch my video to hear the whole story and learn more.