Hearing doesn’t mean understanding

but sometimes that’s all you can do.

A friend, or a stranger, or… it doesn’t matter who. A fellow human being who needs to share something of what they’re going through, something of their struggles, their pain – they can’t always articulate it. Pain doesn’t always fit neatly into coherent sentences.

I’ve been told I’m a good listener. But sometimes I’ve listened to someone and felt frustrated because I couldn’t understand what they were talking about – how can I be of any use to them if I don’t… but I can see it now: people don’t always need someone to understand what their story is exactly, it’s not like they’re giving you information that you need to digest, they may actually not need you at this moment to know the ins and outs of what’s going on or what they’ve been through, they may just need you to sit there whilst they offload, let them bring out to the surface whatever it is that they’re ready to bring out right now, let them describe it in the language that they choose, not insisting that they must be coherent, not demanding that they put their story into words that you can understand. Because it’s not about you, it’s about them and what they need right now.

And sometimes the only way I can deal with it is by kind of switching off my left brain for a moment, sending it to do something else whilst my right brain engages with what I’m hearing.


4 thoughts on “Hearing doesn’t mean understanding

  1. I feel like that too. What I want to learn (and don’t really know how to do) is how to ask good questions. Many of my good-listener friends ask the right questions that help me put words around what I’m feeling, or help me understand it, or whatever, and shows me that they really are engaged in what I’m saying. I’d like to be able to do that.


  2. I totally agree with what you’re saying. More often than not I either don’t “get it” or I think I understand it even better than the person who’s offloading on me (which is probably even worse than not geting it because I’m more than likely wrong).

    I think there’s also a belief that problems should come in a neat package, like they do in a class or movie. There’s a protagonist. There’s a story arc. There’s a clear beginning and ending and it should all be easily tied into a nice neat package with a clear and definitive ending. And most of all there should be a very clear good guy and bad guy. But real life is much more fragmented, muddied and angst ridden than that. We don’t always get the whole story right away. It can develop over a long period of time. Sometimes we never get the complete picture. And more often than not, everyone’s at least a bit culpable.

    So, like you said, sometimes listening is the best policy. … and realizing that we might not have all the answers, but sometimes all that’s needed is a friend, not a full blown solution to the problem.


  3. אני מאד מסכימה

    כשלמדתי פסיכולוגיה היו שהתייחסו לטיפול כולו כמפגש של אדם עם עצמו. הרעיון הוא לאפשר את זה, לעיתים לסייע אבל בעיקר לא להפריע… ברור שמפגשים בין-אישיים רגילים אינם בגדר טיפול, אבל אם בדקו וגילו לפנינו מה נדרש או מה מועיל, מדוע לא להשתמש בזה גם בשיחות רגילות?

    שבת שלום!


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