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Can you hear me?

One spring day almost 20 years ago, I was making plans to go and visit a dear person in my life. I would take several few weeks off so that we would have as much time to spend time together as we could. I would travel in the summertime, when I had less to do at work. We were both looking forward to my stay and all the lovely and fun things we wanted to do while I was there.

Then one evening a couple of weeks before I was to leave, we spoke on the phone. He chatted on about how his day had been but his voice sounded a bit strained and I asked what was up. He fell silent but then shared that he had been thinking about my trip there. "What if we need time to ourselves while you're here?" he asked. I thought about his apartment. It was quite small and didn't really have enough space if you wanted to withdraw for a while. "Or if we want to do different things during the day. Or if…”

He went on sharing his thoughts and I started to think about whether ​​going there maybe wasn't such a good idea after all. Perhaps his arguments were valid. And if so, how would we solve what came up? I curled up on the sofa where I was sitting and leaned my forehead against the back of my hand. "I feel so heavy talking about this." I said after a little while. “That’s strange!” he exclaimed. "I suddenly feel much lighter..."

All he needed in that moment was to express his concerns and be heard in them. Once they were out in the open, we had a wonderful summer together, and the occasions when we actually did feel a need for some alone time or wanted to do things separately, it was easily doable.

I still have to remind myself every now and then that just because I hear someone complain, it doesn't mean I've automatically been assigned a task. The other person may indeed want me to do something to contribute to his or her well-being, but if I immediately jump to the possibility of trying to fix things, there is a fair chance that I will miss out on something that’s even more important: to let another person feel seen, heard and taken seriously.

"That sounds tough."

“Do you want to tell me more?”

"Do I understand you correctly in that...?"

"How can I best be of support to you right now?"

"I don't really know what to say, but I'm here and listening if you want me to."

There is a lot we can say and no right or wrong. But perhaps we don't even need to say much at all, but our attention, a nod and a "mmm" can go a long way. When we let our listening primarily be about understanding and not about solving a problem, I think sometimes the problem solves itself while being heard.



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