A sounding board is essentially someone you can bounce ideas off of. It can be a trusted friend, colleague, mentor, partner, or family member who will listen to you and offer honest advice when needed. It can even be a group of people, such as a supportive group of people with shared interests.
A sounding board can be a valuable resource that allows you to share conversations, concepts, and complaints without judgment, says Nicole Erkfitz, LCSW, executive director at AMFM Healthcare. This article shall explore ways to find and be a good sounding board.
You can share your thoughts, feelings, and ideas with someone you consider your sounding board—no matter how weird, random, or unrealistic they might seem. It can be a safe space to test out new ideas before you act upon them or take them public.
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What Are the Benefits of Having Someone Act as Your Sounding Board?
It’s extremely beneficial for each of us to have someone we consider a sounding board in our lives, says Erkfitz.
These are some of the benefits of having a sounding board:
- Perspective: Discussing your thoughts and ideas with someone can give you a fresh perspective on them. They may have different insights or viewpoints you hadn’t considered.
- Clarity: If you have an idea that’s not fully formed yet, bouncing your thoughts off a sounding board can help you refine it so that you have more clarity on what you want to do.
- Advice: A sounding board can provide valuable advice that helps keep you grounded, says Erkfitz. Heeding the advice of a well-meaning person you trust can help you grow as a person.
- Decision-making: When you’re faced with important decisions, it can help to discuss them with someone who can discuss the options and weigh the pros and cons with you.
- Problem-solving: Having a sounding board can be helpful if you’re facing a problem because it can help you brainstorm solutions and consider alternate viewpoints.
- Emotional support: A sounding board can be a source of emotional support that you can share your feelings and concerns with. Having a strong source of emotional support can help offset stress and keep you grounded during challenging times.1
- Validation and empathy: A sounding board can be a sympathetic ear that offers empathy and validation. It gives you a safe avenue to express yourself without the fear of rejection or retribution, says Erkfitz. Being heard and seen can help you feel accepted and understood.
- Emotional regulation: Research shows that emotional support and validation can help you regulate your emotions, by keeping negative emotions in control and promoting more positive feelings.
Did You Know?
The term “sounding board” originally referred to a wooden canopy that was placed over the church pulpit during the Renaissance era. When the preacher gave their sermon, their voice would bounce off the sounding board and get amplified across the church.
Over time, the term came to mean someone you can bounce ideas off of, to help refine them and make them clearer.
Who Can Be Your Sounding Board?
A sounding board can take various shapes and forms. These are some of the different types of sounding boards:
- Friends and family: Trusted friends, partners, and family members can serve as sounding boards that offer emotional support. Because they know you well, understand your values, and have your best interests at heart, they can advise you on personal matters.
- Colleagues: Workplace coworkers and industry peers can be valuable sounding boards for professional matters. As they understand the context, challenges, and dynamics of your professional environment, they can give you advice and relevant feedback.
- Mentors: Mentors and advisors with professional experience and expertise can offer valuable insights and guidance. They can be a useful resource when it comes to problem-solving and decision-making.
- Groups: Groups or networks of people with common interests can be valuable sources of support, advice, and resources.
- Therapists: Mental health professionals such as therapists and counselors can help you navigate challenging situations and cope with stressors. They offer a safe space for sharing your innermost thoughts.
Some people have one trusted person that acts as their sounding board in many areas of their life, says Erkfitz. However, she says that more often than not, people tend to find different sounding boards that serve specific roles in the various areas of their lives.
For instance, you may have a mentor at work, a best friend that you discuss all your romantic affairs with, and a sibling who is a sounding board for your personal or family-related issues, Erkfitz explains.
The advantage is that you get to control who you feel safe sharing your interpersonal joys and struggles.
How to Find and Build a Supportive Sounding Board
These are some strategies that can help you cultivate helpful and supportive sounding boards in your life:
- Find people you have common interests with: Finding people that you have common interests with helps you build true and authentic connections, says Erkfitz.
- Look for inspiration: Erkfitz recommends seeking out people who inspire you, people you look up to, or people who have desirable traits that you’re looking to cultivate in yourself.
- Choose people you can trust: Trust is a key ingredient in your relationship with your sounding board, because you need to be able to communicate openly and honestly with them. You need to be sure they can keep your confidence.
- Communicate clearly: It’s important that you communicate clearly, openly, and honestly with your sounding board. Otherwise, they may not be able to be very helpful to you.
- Prioritize honesty: While it’s easy to find someone that always agrees with your point of view, if you are looking for a true sounding board you should seek out people that will be honest with you about what they think, Erkfitz says.
- Practice mindfulness: Exercise mindfulness in your relationship with your sounding board. Respect their boundaries as well as their time and energy. Avoid inappropriate oversharing, repeated venting, or trauma dumping on them as that can harm your relationship with them.
How to Be a Good Sounding Board for Others
Being a sounding board to someone looks a bit different than seeking out a sounding board, says Erkfitz.
These are some strategies that can help you be a good sounding board to others:
- Listen actively: It’s important to pay attention and actively listen to what the person is saying. Be fully present during the conversation. Avoid distractions and interruptions as much as possible.
- Practice empathy: Put yourself in the other person’s shoes and try to understand their situation and experiences from their perspective. Validate their feelings and let them know that you genuinely care about them.
- Avoid judgment: Being a sounding board requires you to suspend judgment and offer the person a safe space to share their thoughts and concerns. Avoid judging them or dismissing their feelings.
- Encourage reflection: Help the person reflect on their situation by asking open-ended questions. For example, Erkfitz says you could ask them: “How does this serve you and your goals?” or “What do you think might be causing this?”
- Give constructive feedback: Wherever appropriate, give the person thoughtful and constructive feedback. Avoid being unnecessarily critical. Instead, offer suggestions, solutions, or alternative perspectives.
- Maintain confidentiality: Respect the person’s privacy. Keep their confidences private unless they give you permission to share the information.
- Offer support: Let the person know that you are there for them if they need help. Offer to help in practical ways or refer them to other resources if needed.
- Exercise self-awareness: Be aware of your own biases, judgments, and emotional state during the conversation. Avoid projecting your own experiences onto the other person or hijacking the conversation with your own problems. Stay focused on their needs and concerns.
- Set boundaries: Be clear with the person about your boundaries. For instance, you can let them know upfront how much time you have to talk to them or what sort of support you can or cannot offer them. Remember that supporting someone shouldn’t come at the cost of your own well-being.
I hope you find this article helpful.