Do you have a friend or loved one who seems to understand you better than most others? That person probably shows you respect and has an accurate understanding of how you feel. The ability to demonstrate an accurate understanding of how someone else feels is called empathy. And at this time of the semester, when pressure and stress are both increasing some empathy – both given and received – means a lot! At the Counseling Center, we understand how to help students through empathic listening and genuine care.
Most of us have tried to talk things over with a trusted someone when we are struggling — it’s a universal human need. Talking about problems with an empathic person can help us to clarify how we feel, and what we need to do to resolve our problems. Feeling genuinely understood by someone else also offers hope and helps us to feel less alone with our troubles.
But things don’t always go well. We can tell right away when we aren’t being heard accurately after taking a risk to talk with someone. And it can be quite a challenge for us to be a good listener for someone else. Here are some dos and don’ts for helpful listening.
Many of us haven’t really learned how to listen well to others. We easily may become distracted by our own feelings when called upon to hear the problems of a friend. Instead of listening carefully for understanding, we might ask too many questions, making our friend feel criticized. Or we might give advice too early, implying disrespectfully that our friend’s difficult problems would be easy for us to solve. Talking about our own similar situation risks takes the focus off of the speaker, leaving them feeling unheard and misunderstood. Besides, our own experiences might not be so similar after all to our friend’s.
Helping effectively means listening more and talking less — offering our time and attention to the person who needs to talk. A good listener suspends judgment and focuses in on the meaning the other person is communicating, connecting with the other person’s feelings, not only the words that are being said. A good listener is patient and tries genuinely to understand the difficulties of a friend instead of offering quick advice. With accurate empathy, our friend can often resolve the problem in their own best way after thoughtfully self-examining with the help of a good listener.
Many people choose to talk over problems with professional listeners like the psychologists and other clinicians at the TU Counseling Center in the Ward & West building on campus. You can count on your Counseling Center counselor to be friendly, confidential, concerned, and unbiased.
The Counseling Center is for everyone facing the many difficulties of living and the stress of academic pressure, not just for the few with serious psychological problems. In addition to individual counseling, group counseling is also offered, in which students work on their own personal goals, while at the same time practice helpful listening to others.
Students who take advantage of counseling services can become more effective in their lives in general, as well as more able to understand and empathize with others. Check out the Counseling Center for more information. And if you would like to check us out further, just call 410-704-2512 to schedule an initial appointment.
Greg Reising, Ph.D.