Major Key to Friendship: Shut Up for a Minute!

Picture this: It’s been a long week. You’re over tired, overwhelmed, annoyed, frustrated – the list goes on. There’s been a lot on your mind recently but you haven’t had the chance to talk about, so it’s really starting to build up inside your head. You finally get the undivided attention of your very best confidante – in the scenario in my head it’s my sister – and you begin to let out all of the pent-up feelings you’ve been dying to share with them. Not that you’re complaining, you just really need a chance to vent to your favourite person.

You talk for a little while, scratching the surface of what’s been bothering you lately, and then all of a sudden – your dear listener tries to solve your problems.

Yes, that’s right- this person you hold so dear to your heart, who you’ve been aching to talk to so that you can verbalize your feelings is not only listening anymore. They are telling you things that you don’t want to hear. They’re trying to give you advice.

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If you’ve read up until this point, you’re probably thinking that this better be going somewhere good. Friends giving you advice about your issues? Sounds pretty textbook young-adulthood to me. Fortunately, this is where I’ll get to the point. 

Our natural instinct as humans, and social beings at that, is to problem solve. To take any information given to us and to make sense of it, and then to find a solution. Especially when the information we are given seems so clear, we have this compulsion to immediately report that a solution to this problem has been found, and we must share it so that we can move on to the next problem in need of solving.

But if you have ever been so lucky as to have another person confide in you about their problems, perhaps you’ve noticed that they aren’t as responsive once you start to give input about what they should be doing to better their situation.

This is a lesson I learned from my little sister. We rely on each other for a weekly session of venting at the minimum. As we got older, I started to notice that any time we would start to have a typical debrief, we would end up fighting. I never wanted to fight, I just felt like my sister would never listen to me and she felt like I wouldn’t listen to her, therefore: massive conflict.

a man and a woman sit on a park bench looking frustrated Vera Arsic | Pexels

One day after getting into one of these same fights, she told me the wisest thing a 16-year-old girl could have told me.

She said, “Laura, I want to tell you my problems, but I don’t want you to fix them for me. I just want you to listen. All you need to do is listen, because all I want is to get it off my chest.”

This was groundbreaking for me. Seriously, this changed my outlook on being a good friend. All this time I had been firing back solutions that I thought my sister was looking for, but all this time she had been trying to find a way to say, ‘Shut up! Just listen!’.

My sister and I model my most successful friendship; we’re honest with each other and we care for each other very deeply. So, I realized that if all I had to do to be helpful to the most important person in my life was to listen to them, I imagined how helpful I could be to my other dear friends who don’t expect nearly as much out of me as she does.

image of two women whispering Photo by Ben White from Unsplash

Sometimes all you can do is listen. It can be tough not to feel like you know what’s best for someone. The bottom line is that they are probably not looking for your opinion, and they are definitely not looking for a solution to the problem they just shared. It’s a funny thing, since it doesn’t make any sense, but most times people just want to feel heard, and have the comfort of knowing someone is there just to hear them out. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be engaging; I mean there’s no need to sit there in silence. Just be mindful that your friend has been waiting for a chance to put these emotions into words, so they aren’t looking for you to chime in.

If someone wants your opinion, they will outright ask for it. Don’t be offended that they aren’t looking for a solution from you because if they trust you enough to share what’s been on their mind lately, then you are definitely very important to them.

I'm still working on it, but practicing this type of listening has made me a better friend. I let my friends know that I am here to field their emotions, and I try to bite my tongue when I want to tell them what they should do.

Thanks to Grace for imparting her wisdom on me always. xx