Active Listening to Help Process Difficult Moments

I recently listened to someone outside of my work who shared that they are experiencing panic attacks. As they started talking, I could feel myself wanting to solve and share some way of improving it. And in that fleeting moment, I stopped and asked what they needed. I was so glad I did as the person said to me that whilst in the moment of the panic attack, the experience is horrible, they are learning ways to deal with it, and what they needed from me was to be a listening ear. I was humbled as they had chosen me to share this difficult moment with. I deployed all my presence to just be with them and actively listen. We noticed together that processing this experience is cathartic and supports the person to learn from the situation.

This got me thinking about how we all process those moments in our lives when we are taken by surprise. We all experience things in life that need processing. The aftermath of these experiences can leave us confused, bewildered, and shaken up, particularly if we don’t address them. In this blog, we will explore what these moments might be and some strategies to support our processing of them.  

Significant Moments

The interesting thing about a significant moment is that in the moment itself it may not feel like one. It is only after the event that we realise it may have had an impact on us. These may include:

  • Someone not listening to our viewpoint in a meeting and interrupting us.
  • Dealing with how our childhood and upbringing might make us feel in the present moment, how it might trigger us to feel a certain way (for example, a boss at work might remind us of someone significant from our past).
  • Being passed over for promotion without clear feedback as to why.
  • Noticing an increasing dissatisfaction in the career we have chosen.
  • Feeling a loss of control at work. 
  • Signs of burnout. 
  • Relationships that make us feel a lack of equality. 
  • Subtle bullying. 
  • Health issues. 
  • A show of anger from someone at work/ conflict. 

The list above may resonate – if not, consider moments or interactions that you are still reflecting on days after it has happened. This is a clue that it might need a bit more processing. Or it might be a recurring pattern of your own behaviour that you notice. 

Strategies for processing difficult moments

1.Gather Information

The first step is to be more aware of what you might still be processing. A bit like dirty glasses need a good wipe, it is the same for ourselves. We need to build our awareness of the things that are building up inside us (the metaphorical dirt on the glasses) to start processing them more effectively. It also requires us to be honest with ourselves about how we are feeling rather than burying or ignoring the feelings.

What situations or people have triggered a reaction in you?

2. Explore out loud

Next, we need to explore the “stuff” – an active listening space is so important, as in this phase, we rarely seek solutions from others. We are looking to share it out loud so that we can see it more clearly. 

What are you are noticing?

3. Gain Insights

Often through the exploration phase, we start to make sense of the situations we have gone through. We gain insights about ourselves, about others and about the situation itself. This can only happen if the listener employs active listening techniques, not telling. 

What are your learnings?

4. And Now?

This may be about a practical action you will take, or it could simply be a change of mindset or way of thinking. It is sharing what you now feel having experienced the situation and having processed it. 

The Conversation Itself

What makes the difference is:

  • Having the conversation out loud rather than in our own head.
  • Having it with someone who isn’t adopting the role of the fixer. 

In most conversations we can see how tantalising it is for most of us to want to give our opinion, advice, or solution. What most of us need is a listening ear, for someone to be with us whilst we process it out loud and make some sense of it. We don’t need to hear the other person’s story of when it happened to them or their friend and what they did as the spotlight then becomes about the other person. And after all, this conversation is about you. 

With the glasses analogy, they become clean again and we see things with more clarity. The person becomes the fixer themselves with the support of the silence and listening that you provide.

Opportunities to create space for others

What opportunities are there for us to create this space for others? As a leader, we can find moments to be present and employ active listening techniques. Outside of work, we can become still and listen more than we think we can. As a first step, I encourage you to notice over the coming days how often you share advice vs being in the space of not knowing. 

In Summary

Creating time to process is invaluable as it moves our thinking and feelings forward positively and healthily. Active listening skills are vital to all of us in the professional world as it is fundamental to building positive relationships with others. It takes practice and is so easy to step into the fixer role. If you are interested to hear how coaching may help you to process a difficult moment, please get in touch to discover more. 

Leave a Comment