Listen to this: How to help someone get unstuck

Two men talking on the dock

By Jen Boggs

Sometimes I get writer’s block. I just can’t seem to get the words in my brain to flow out of my fingertips and down to the keyboard! When I get stuck like that, I have a few tricks I use to get moving. I might, literally, get up and take a quick walk. Sometimes I read an article by a writer I like, or just start typing some words related to the topic without worrying about the result (at least not yet :). Occasionally, I have to try all three strategies and others.

Jacob/Mountain Pass Life Coaching

Earlier this year, I spoke with Jacob Coldwell, the founder of Mountain Pass Life Coaching about new year’s resolutions. We got to talking about “stuckness,” and our conversation turned to how hard it is to watch a loved one feel stuck in their lives.

When I asked Jacob if he had any advice for people with friends or family members who are having trouble getting unstuck, his answer really surprised me. He said the number one thing you can do to help a loved one move forward is to learn how to listen.

Sounds simple right? It may be, but it’s not easy. Here’s an excerpt from our conversation:

Why does anyone need to learn how to listen? Don’t we all know how to do that already?

I think that while most of us are born with the ability to listen, most of us don’t actually do it well. We often miss hearing the stuff underneath – the real story that someone is trying to tell you. People are unique and complex, which makes listening more challenging than what appears on the surface.

Jacob Coldwell Mountain Pass Life Coaching

How do you define listening?

I think the best concept of listening is giving focus and attention to what another person is saying, not just hearing the words. The result of good listening is connection with another person.

Why is listening so difficult?

Well, it’s a foundational principle that no one talks about, probably because we don’t realize what it is. So here’s the big secret: listening is loss. Listening is a sacrifice of time, energy, and agenda. Listening will cost you – and it’s a truly generous gift to give another human being. 

So how do I listen well, especially to someone who seems stuck?

It takes time. And it may feel tempting, but you don’t need to fix or give advice. In my work, I’ve always found that the best person to get advice from is one’s self. Allowing the time and space for someone to talk helps that person produce the wisdom they need, in time.

Am I allowed to ask that person questions?

Of course! Good listening opens up more opportunities because you start to get curious and ask questions about what they’re saying. Ask open-ended questions that can’t be answered with a yes or no. And when you recognize a pattern in someone’s life because you’ve listened well, then you’re able to offer additional insight. Notice I said insight, not advice!

What should the result be?

If you’re looking for any result, there’s really just one that matters: you’ve made a connection with that person. The most important thing is that you bore witness to their story, you volunteered to suffer with them for the span of that conversation. You’re not going to fix their problem, but you may have helped them identify the problem in the first place. The chances are very good that the person who you listened to is closer to uncovering their own path forward.

Do you have a friend, family member, or even your spouse who just can’t seem to get out of a rut? Maybe you can help … by listening without judgment or advice, just love.

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Diane Atwood

About Diane Atwood

For more than 20 years, Diane was the health reporter on WCSH 6. Before that, a radiation therapist at Maine Medical Center and after, Manager of Marketing/PR at Mercy Hospital. She now hosts and produces the Catching Health podcast and writes the award-winning blog Catching Health with Diane Atwood.