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First Responder Wellness Week Day 5: Just listen

Being a good listener is often more valuable than offering solutions

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It’s a common misconception that our role is to solve the problems of our loved ones whenever they confide in us. However, the truth is that being a good listener is often more valuable than offering solutions. When a loved one shares their troubles, it presents an opportunity for deeper connection. The key to alleviating their stress lies in making them feel understood and less isolated.

You can validate your loved one’s feelings by acknowledging their perspective and expressing empathy. Phrases like “Wow, that sounds really tough” or “I can see why you’d feel that way” can go a long way. Supporting them by simply listening and being present — or even sharing if you’ve faced something similar — helps them feel less alone. Offering solutions or advice prematurely can sometimes heighten their stress, as it may come across as dismissive or lead to disagreements over the feasibility of your suggestions.

Instead, when someone vents to you, focus on listening, validating their feelings and resist the urge to give advice unless they specifically ask for it. Asking whether they need a sympathetic ear or are seeking guidance can clarify their needs. Trusting their response — especially when they prefer just to be heard — will likely be more appreciated. This approach fosters trust and strengthens your relationship.

Get more resources to share with your team at the First Responder Wellness Week resource center.

Dr. Rachelle Zemlok is a licensed clinical psychologist in California, specializing in work with first responder families. She serves as the strategic wellness director at Lexipol, supporting the content and strategy related to first responder mental health and wellness, with a special focus on supporting spouses and family members through the Cordico Wellness App. Prior to joining Lexipol, Zemlok founded First Responder Family Psychology, which provides culturally competent therapy to first responders and their family members. She is the author of “The Firefighter Family Academy: A Guide to Educate & Prepare Spouses for the Career Ahead.” For more information on Dr. Zemlok or to connect with her please visit her website.