I'm sure some of you know about me and Alice already. This is a question related to another one.

Link: How can I help my partner with her body image without offending her?

My take away from that was to be more of a listener than some guy riding in and throwing unwanted advice at her. That being said, I feel that not giving advice is strange. Not the concept of it, but rather how I do it. I find myself agreeing that what happened is tough or that whatever she's going through is bad.

I Thought more about this when she moved to a new school (A better one but in a town about an hour away by train) and she was telling me that she will miss her old friends. The best I could do was to say 'I miss my old friends too'.

This kind of works, but I was wondering how else I could support and listen to Alice on such subjects without sounding like a yes man or trying to shift focus to myself.

  • What's so bad about sounding like a yes man?
    – Philipp
    Commented Nov 30, 2017 at 10:11
  • Somewhat related, just thought I'd share this for some general tips wikihow.com/Be-a-Good-Listener as it seems to answer your question in a fair amount of detail
    – Jesse
    Commented Nov 30, 2017 at 10:32
  • @Philipp i feel personally that being a yesman can sound a little bit annoying or that the person isnt listening but parroting the things you said. Commented Nov 30, 2017 at 11:58
  • 1
    You may find this question enlightening, it's basically the opposite side of your question :)
    – Em C
    Commented Nov 30, 2017 at 13:00
  • oh my, seems both sides do have the same problem Commented Dec 1, 2017 at 1:38

5 Answers 5


When someone wants you to listen, it isn't really about you saying yes to everything or acknowledging what they say. It's about them wanting to talk about their feelings.

When my wife/brother wants to tell me something, I first let them rant/talk then I ask questions (not going towards a solution).

For example:

Wife: I really disliked this interview. The interviewer was late and was unprepared!

Me: That's too bad honey, what did the interviewer do to show that he was unprepared?

Wife: Well he was using a completely different name for me and asked really basic questions.

This shows that you listened and that you are interested in hearing her story. She can also rant about the things she wants to rant about, because you ask questions about the things she brings up. Don't offer solutions even though it may be very hard to do so. Most of the time the person will ask for advice after ranting.

  • I'll definitely keep these in mind the next time this comes around (Should not be too far, considering the move to a new school and all) Commented Nov 30, 2017 at 11:58
  • 6
    @SomeoneElse Works great for any conversation! Ask questions about the topics they want to talk about.
    – Kevin
    Commented Nov 30, 2017 at 11:59
  • 4
    +1 for this approach. If there's something you feel like you absolutely need to express to them, pose it as a question asking them if they think doing 'X' would help. Never start making your own statements during someones venting session. Focus on asking questions. Keep the door open for them to continue talking. Until they explicitly say "What do you think I should do?", don't make any statements - focus on questions.
    – Jess K.
    Commented Nov 30, 2017 at 14:32
  • 4
    Basically, you suggest he should play the role of Eliza?
    – vsz
    Commented Nov 30, 2017 at 18:21
  • 1
    @vsz I was joking by using one of the phrases Eliza uses to make one continue to talk... ;) it is one of the lines in its wikipedia entry's image Commented Dec 1, 2017 at 17:40

I learned a technique from a friend of mine who is a social worker, and I've used it with my kids when they're upset, and found it really works.

Listen to the other person, and when a response is appropriate repeat back exactly what they said in your own words. Use "I hear you saying..." or "It sounds like you feel..." or just simply say the thing they said in an affirming way. You don't have to say that you agree — just validate that you hear what they are saying.

The key is do this at least ten times before you offer any opinions or thoughts of your own. Just listen, absorb, and reflect. And make sure to rephrase: obviously, you can't just completely echo. Count in your head. Long before you get there, you'll have an impulse to advise or correct or something. Resist it. Keep counting.

The 10-times-count may make this seem a little bit like a gimmick or a trick, but the thing is, you're not tricking the other person. You're tricking your own impulse to give advise or suggestions or disagree or give alternate viewpoints. Those things may be helpful big picture and eventually, but they aren't right away. So the 10-responses rule makes sure you actively think about and digest what you're hearing.

  • 1
    I use this in work meetings to ensure I understand tasks, it works wonders for clarification of problems. I am not sure about 10 times though...
    – Reed
    Commented Nov 30, 2017 at 21:52
  • 1
    Ten times is probably a lot for something like understanding tasks in a meeting — that number is useful when you're talking to someone who is upset about something, and I hope that's not the situation in your work meetings.
    – mattdm
    Commented Nov 30, 2017 at 21:54
  • 1
    Someone's been watching Malcolm in the Middle around here
    – Nico
    Commented Dec 1, 2017 at 8:02
  • 2
    I have heard about that technique as well in a seminar about communication and conflict management - there it was called Paraphrasing (Mirroring). skillsyouneed.com/ips/reflecting.html Commented Dec 1, 2017 at 9:37
  • 1
    @SunnyOnesotrue That link is quite nice, and actually gives a distinction between mirroring and paraphrasing which is quite useful.
    – mattdm
    Commented Dec 1, 2017 at 18:15

You already know that you need to listen more, because you are asking the question. Sadly there is no magic words that will make you do that; you just need to learn and believe in the benefits of you doing so.

Sometimes there is a case for giving direct advice. But it should always be presented as such - advice, and not the final word. Everybody should make their own decisions and accept responsibility for them.

Most of the time, the desirable way to help someone with a problem or a question is to use counselling skills - that is to ask helpful questions which help them answer their own question or draw their own conclusion.

First of all, you need to listen and don't interrupt. It can help to make some conscious sign that you are listening - maybe some nods, or maybe even some listening noises (like "mmm" or "right") but don't over use noises and certainly don't use them as a crowbar to stop her talking and get your point in.

In the example you gave:

Alice: "I think I should move to this better school, but I'm worried I'll miss my old friends".

You: "I'd miss my friends too"

I'd say this was the wrong way. First of all you have given your opinion based on how you would feel. That might not be how she feels. She may now question her own feelings and feel even more confused; or she may follow your advice and then later regret doing so.

But if you use a question, for example:

Alice: "I think I should move to this better school, but I'm worried I'll miss my old friends".

You: "Which is more important to you?"

... you are inviting her to think for herself about which is more important. This is beneficial for many reasons. First of all, she makes her own decision. This is character building and she won't (or shouldn't) blame anyone else for advising her to take one path over another. But it isn't just about being free from blame... let's say the answer IS her education and she chooses to move - when she thinks back on the decision she should hopefully remember why she made the decision and this reinforces her belief that she made the right decision. She ought to feel more confident that she made the right decision, even when she misses her friends which she inevitably will.

In dealing with complex problems it can also be good to repeat back key points after you have listened and before you follow up with a response.

You need to believe that this is often better than giving advice. If you believe it, you will do it.


I'm faced with this problem fairly frequently myself and am struggling with the same thing. In my case, the issue is that in my efforts to try and help someone, I feel compelled to do something more than just sit there and listen to what is said. There is this instinctive desire to be more, to help them outright solve the problem.

The point being that many problems cannot be solved just like that. As frustrating as it is, listening and genuinely showing understanding and doing nothing more or less than that, is often what people need.

Just look back at times in your own life where you needed to just vent and let go of some weight you know isn't going to go away. Often it's not that you need someone to solve your problem, but just that by expressing your feelings, it makes it all a bit more bearable.

So I'd suggest you follow the advice of Kevin; Show genuine interest in the situation she's facing. Show that you're listening and that you feel for her, that you empathize or at least sympathize.

But for you, what is most important to remember is the following, because I know that for myself and many other this isn't a satisfying answer. Remember that as simple, as small, as perhaps meaningless it seems, just listening and doing nothing more helps her already more than many others would do for her. You are not powerless and you are not weak for not doing anything more than that, But you are genuinely helping and making a difference by doing this alone.

If you are in doubt, ask her if she wants you to do anything more than just listening, she can tell you better what she needs than you or I can guess simply on a place like IPS.

  • 2
    Oh thanks man, i really do feel powerless when she says things are bad and i cant do anything to help her and i also dont really know what to say so i start coming up with plans and stuff...i guess i can ask her questions about her inner feelings and it helps me understand the fustration. Cheers! Commented Nov 30, 2017 at 11:57

"she was telling me that she will miss her old friends. The best I could do was to say 'I miss my old friends too'."

Right: You're not really listening, still - you're making it all about yourself, still.

Instead of "I miss my friends too" or even "I understand how you feel", a good listener will show the speaker that the listener is focusing on them and leaving their own self out of it.

Instead of any response at all with the word "I" in it, think of things to say which have "you" in them. "That must be hard for you." "Sorry that's happening to you." "That's too bad for you."

When you're listening, the other person is the star of the show. Not "I" (you). Otherwise you're still just demanding their attention instead of giving them yours.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.