If someone is venting and emotionally unloading on you, whether it’s about work or a relationship or whatever, you need to know what it is they’re looking for from you.
Setting the precedent from the start will assist you in being more helpful to your friend, and it will let your friend know that you truly care and want to help.
Do you want me to listen or provide thoughts?
Ask the person venting at you what they want or need, so that you can help them in the way they require. Some people just want to feel heard and they want someone to empathize and understand what they’re going through. Note, empathize, not sympathize. There’s a difference.
Venting is always about the other person and never about you. Ask them what they need, and if you feel good about it, deliver on what they ask for.
But that doesn’t mean you have to agree with what they’re saying and just blurt their same opinion back at them. If you think they were in the wrong, tell them. And, you can do this without them getting mad at you. Or, you can try.
Once they’re done talking, you can express your opinion by asking questions. Instead of saying, “Well, clearly, you are in the wrong here,” you could say, “Did you think about it from this perspective?” Or, “What do you wish was different about the situation?”
Answering emotions with questions is a therapy technique. When I’m venting at my therapist, she always responds to my emotions with questions. She makes me think about my feelings and determine why I feel that way. She helps me arrive at my own conclusions through the questions she asks me.
You can do the same thing with people in your own life.
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