How To Help A Friend Who Doesn’t Listen

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Ever had a friend who was confronted with a problem but wouldn’t listen to any of your advice?

I’ve been in this situation many times and it particularly reminds me of when I lived in a share house in Sydney.

The unhappy investment banker

One of my housemates used to work in investment banking. He wore a schmick suit, earned a high five-figure income and worked in an office with spectacular views overlooking the city. Working at this particular company was what he and his peers had dreamed of while studying at university. Unfortunately, the job title also came packaged with long work hours, repetitive tasks and asshole upper management. It wasn’t a surprise then that every day he would return home complaining about how much he hated his job. As soon as the front door swung open I knew what was to ensue.

“Eugene, I hate my job! What am I doing with my life? I want to quit!” he’d complain while dropping his bag on the dining room floor.
“Ok, then quit,” I’d reply while tapping away at my laptop.
“Oh…but it pays really well, so I can’t leave,” he’d contest.

This same conversation repeated itself for six months. To me, the answer was so simple. Unless you live in the most extreme of cases, there is no one pointing a gun at your head forcing you to work in a particular job. You may think that you have no choice in the matter, but at the end of the day, it is you who signs on the dotted line. If you don’t like your job, you can always offer your time and skills to another employer. Or if you have entrepreneurial ambitions, you can find a way to create a job for yourself!

I have to admit that my blunt responses only added fuel to the fire. I could’ve sat down and helped him to create an exit plan, however I was too caught up battling my own career issues to really care. Instead, I just stated the obvious, which also happened to make every evening emotionally draining. Upon reflecting on this experience, I noticed three things:

1. Change “seems” scary

Do you drink out of the same coffee mug, sit in the same seat in your lectures and take the same route to work? As adventurous as we’d all like to think we are, humans don’t like change. Change is new and untried, which makes it seem like a dark abyss of ambiguity.. It doesn’t have to be that way though. Once we flesh out the hairy details of what is involved with a particular change, it may not seem so scary after all.

2. Listening is subjective

Instead of listening to what you’re saying, most people are simply preparing how they will respond. Their focus is in their own head rather than on your words, making it near impossible for them to process incoming messages from an objective point of view. As the sender, it’s important to know whether the person that you’re talking to is listening or “listening”.

3. You can’t change anyone

Josh Shipp, an American youth speaker and TV host, notes that all you can do is “send out your message and hope to god that they act upon it.” What this means is that you’re just a messenger and that’s it. No matter how good your advice is or how great you are in the art of persuasion, it is up to the individual to take action.

How to help a friend Who Doesn’t Listen

So if you can’t actually make someone change, how can you help them? I’ve found that the best thing to do sometimes is to not even give any advice. That doesn’t mean that you completely disregard them and their problems. It just means that you support them along their journey to realisation. After all, it’s their life and it’s up to them to find their way. Here are three ways to help them along:

  1. Listen to them and understand where they are coming from
  2. Ask questions (these could even be guiding questions) to help them discover new solutions
  3. Be the change you want to see in the world and they might just follow suit

While these three steps will require you to be 100% present and invested in the conversation, it is a lot more effective and requires a lot less energy in the long run. It might also be a good idea to take out a pen and paper to jot everything down – thoughts are fleeting but what’s on paper is real. I have to warn you though that if you do these things, people may start asking you if you are a psychiatrist!

What do you do to help your friends who don’t listen? Let me know down below 🙂

Note: my ex-housemate has since quit his job to pursue a career that is more aligned with what he’s interested in!

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