I hope this finds each of you well, enjoying your summer and adjusting to these challenging times. I haven’t written a newsletter this summer, and I have missed reaching out to you. To be honest, with all the chatter that is going on in our world and everybody adding their two cents, I just wasn’t confident that I had much value to add.
Today I had a realization. It feels like everyone is talking and no one is really listening to anybody. It seems that many people are more interested in talking than listening; in getting their point of view across rather than appreciating other persons point of view. Listening seems to be a lost art. There is so much noise going on it seems as though we are starting to tune out. When was the last time you really listened to your spouse, your children or your friend? When was the last time you gave your undivided attention to the person you were sitting across from? When was the last time you felt heard?
Most of us just want to be heard. Often we’ll listen to a conversation partner without really hearing them. In the process, we miss opportunities to connect with that person and possibly risk making him or her feel neglected, disrespected, and resentful.
I want to share an exercise that can be beneficial in expressing an active interest in what other people have to say, making them feel heard. This active listening technique is especially useful for everyday conversations and can be used for difficult conversations (such as arguments with a spouse) or for expressing support. Research suggests that using active listening can help others feel more understood and improve relationship satisfaction. I have outlined the steps below.’
- Paraphrase. Once the other person has finished expressing a thought, paraphrase what he or she said to make sure you understand it, and to show that you are paying attention. Helpful ways to paraphrase include “What I hear you saying is _____,” “It sounds like _____,” and “If I understand you right _____.” Even though this technique may seem simplistic it is very validating to the person you are talking with.
- Ask questions. When appropriate, ask questions to encourage the other person to elaborate on his or her thoughts and feelings. Avoid jumping to conclusions about what the other person means. Instead, ask questions to clarify his or her meaning, such as, “When you say _____, do you mean _____?”
- Express empathy. If the other person voices negative feelings, strive to validate these feelings rather than questioning or defending against them. For example, if the speaker expresses frustration, try to consider why he or she feels that way, regardless of whether you think that feeling is justified or whether you would feel that way yourself were you in his or her position. You might respond, “I can sense that you’re feeling frustrated,” and even “I can understand how that situation could cause frustration.”
- Use engaged body language. Show that you are engaged and interested by making eye contact, nodding, facing the other person, and maintaining an open and relaxed body posture. Avoid attending to distractions in your environment or checking your phone. Be mindful of your facial expressions: Avoid expressions that might communicate disapproval or impatience.
- Avoid judgment. Your goal is to understand the other person’s perspective and accept it for what it is, even if you disagree with it. Try not to interrupt with counter-arguments or mentally prepare a rebuttal while the other person is speaking. Remember we are not attempting to judge or analyze this person.
- Avoid giving advice. Problem-solving is likely to be more effective after both conversation partners understand one another’s perspective and feel heard.
Reflective/Active listening helps listeners better understand another’s perspective and helps the speaker feel more understood. This technique can prevent miscommunication and spare hurt feelings on both sides. By improving communication and preventing arguments from escalating, active listening can make relationships more enduring and satisfying.
This week in your interactions with others, step back from your role as the doer, fixer or knower and simply reflect to others what you hear them saying. Note their reactions and how your listening helps both of you gain awareness. It may seem awkward at first, but as you gain confidence in your skills pay attention to how people start responding to you, and also how you feel about your interactions with others. Listening is something that takes practice and needs time, attention and awareness. It is a wonderful gift and a true service to listen and be present for another.
“To ‘listen’ to another’s soul into a condition of disclosure and discovery, may be almost the greatest service that any human being ever performs for another.” – Douglas Steere
It feels good to connect again. I wish you a healthy, safe and fun August.