In this episode, Naomi reminds us of how important it is in conversations to often come from a place of witnessing not fixing.
One of the mistakes we often make in our personal and professional relationships is to immediately want to fix or find a solution when someone shares a problem with us or shows emotion in our company – but this can sometimes make the person feel unheard and alone.
In this episode Naomi shares some tips for how you can practice changing this and become skilled at witnessing not fixing.
Listen to this episode
What you will learn:
- The importance of coming from a place of witnessing not fixing, during conversations.
- Tips for how you can practice changing this and become skilled at witnessing not fixing.
Featured / Referenced:
Prefer to read? Download the full episode transcript:
Read the full episode transcript:
You are listening to the Dream For Others® podcast with Naomi Arnold, Episode 12.
Dream For Me, Dream For You, Dream For Others®. And now your host, award-winning life and business coach, Naomi Arnold…
I can’t believe that the podcast in this new format has been going for three months already. I hope you’ve been enjoying it and finding it valuable. I’ve certainly been enjoying sharing some of my thoughts and the frameworks I use in dreaming for self and dreaming for others.
I wanted to talk to you about a topic that comes up a lot with my coaching clients and also in our Gentle Business Mastermind.
One of the things that many people struggle with, especially those who identify as highly sensitive or gentle, is that people in their life often have trouble witnessing them and their emotions.
They want to show up as they are and be genuine and real and authentic about how they are feeling. If they have a rough day or are going through a challenging period, they don’t want to be dishonest about this, they want to be more open and to share.
BUT, they are sometimes hesitant to do this, because those who they are speaking with find it challenging to listen. They get uncomfortable when someone appears to be emotional or upset or depressed. They immediately feel a pressure or a tension to resolve this, to fix it. And when they can’t they might react in a way that isn’t helpful or kind, shutting that person down, dismissing them, avoiding them, giving uninvited advice, or trying to move the conversation on. I’ve heard clients share that in some coaching or group coaching contexts when they’ve attended with emotion or have shared something they are grappling with, that they’ve actually been told this isn’t the place for that, to take it elsewhere. Their posts have been deleted. Or they’ve been told they’re not ready for coaching, that they need therapy, even though they feel ready for coaching and they are moving forward and they may even have a therapist already alongside coaching.
Many of us do this with colleagues or peers, and with family and friends too. If we genuinely care for them, we want to fix things, we want to make things better for them. If their expression is triggering something within us or making us uncomfortable, we might try to shut them down, move them on, or dismiss them. We don’t want to feel the tension it stirs up within us.
And in some contexts, fixing is necessary and appropriate. If I take my laptop to the Apple store because it is faulty, I don’t want empathy alone, I want them to fix the thing and I was them to do it as quickly as possible.
But if I’m having a bad week or month, sometimes I don’t want people to fix things, I just want to share, for someone to listen, to feel heard and understood, to hear if they resonate and have been through something similar. To know I’m not alone.
Sometimes just sharing my story and being heard, just talking it through, and knowing that someone is fully present and listening and trying to witness and understand me is healing enough. It makes me connect with my humanness and their humanness too. You feel the care and mutual support. You can feel that they are willing to sit with you in the tension and discomfort and feel with you.
Sometimes that in itself helps people move forward. Many times this witnessing is a much more powerful experience than someone who is trying to fix things or suggest fixes or force us in a certain direction.
Being a witness to someone else’s emotion or suffering or grieving or pain – resisting the urge to give advice or the need to find a solution or the temptation to push them away if we can’t – it is a skill. And it’s a skill that often takes conscious practice.
So how do we do this? When a friend or family member or colleague or client is crying or is telling us about something we’re really struggling with – what can we do?
First, we pause, we ground ourselves in the moment and we focus on being really present with them.
This might mean experiencing discomfort ourselves. We might feel a physiological response in our bodies, we might feel nervous. And that’s okay. We can sit with that while we listen.
Now this obviously won’t be the case for everyone in every context. If someone is sharing something with you and it’s doing more than making you nervous, maybe it’s triggering a trauma of your own, or it’s making you feel unsafe – you trust yourself here, you do what you need to do to protect yourself, you end that conversation if you need to.
BUT – if it’s just discomfort, if it’s just a tension because you don’t have practice being present with someone who is crying or you’ve always felt pressure to find a solution – it might be time to practice a different way.
To let that discomfort be, to be aware of that tension or those nerves within you, and to still be there for that person anyway. Take deep breaths if need be. And maybe in a future episode I can teach you a few different breathing techniques that might help here.
And then, unless they specifically ask you for advice or for suggestions on what they could do, resist the urge to do so. Instead focus your full intention on listening and on demonstrating you are listening. Make statements and ask questions that show this, try to convey to them that you understand or you’re trying to understand.
Try not to give them uninvited advice. If there is something you’re desperate to share that you think might be useful, try getting their consent first…
“If you like, I can share what’s helped me in the past? But if you don’t want to hear that, that’s of course fine too.”
“If you like, I can share what has helped some of my previous clients who have been through this, so you can determine if any of these strategies feel right for you too? But if you’re just wanting to share where you’re at and don’t want to go there, that’s fine too.”
Or one of the most powerful questions of all “Is there anything I can do to support you at the moment?”
You will find that this witnessing, this attempt at deep listening, will often result in you feel good inside too. The bond, the connection, the sense of feeling moved yourself – will bring not only them benefit but you too. Witnessing someone show up authentically as themselves in that moment, being brave and vulnerable, often inspires us to face some of the challenging aspects of our life and emotions too. It can help us move forward in ways that we didn’t even know that we needed or wanted to move forward. It can help you feel connected and seen and appreciated and acknowledged and heard as well.
A lot of the time, through listening and witnessing, the person will not only find the conversation healing, but will often find any relevant solutions themselves as well, just by by sharing them and expressing them and working them through with you, wading through the messiness of it all, releasing some of the emotion or loneliness or getting clearer on where they are most struggling.
You will often feel this shift, witness that moment where they come up with the solution themselves AND feeling heard and validated and supported in doing so.
Whereas if you had of interjected early on with your uninvited advice and solutions and fixes – it may not feel as moving or as empowering for them.
So in this brief episode today, I invite you to ponder on where you could possibly practice witnessing rather than fixing more? Maybe it’s with a loved one, a colleague or a client? Or maybe it’s even within yourself, to feel and witness the emotion more, to journal through this on the page, without immediately switching to solution mode?
I’d love if you’d share in the comments on the show notes page or tag me on social media at @NaomiLArnold #DreamForOthers – what is one thing you are going to focus on this week when it comes to the art of witnessing over fixing. I’d love to know and perhaps focus on practicing some of the items you identified myself more too.
Thanks for listening and I’ll chat with you again soon.
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