Sometimes in life we simply need someone to hear us as we vent or “let go” of some of our feelings. Then there are the times we need our sweetheart to hear and understand our side of things. There are other times we need our children to hear the advice we have for them because we have more years of experience on the planet and their best interest in mind.
There are endless opportunities to listen to those we care about as well as people we interact with in business or everyday life. There is nothing like active, attentive, and caring, listening to make the other person feel cared for, accepted and heard. They have something important to say or something about which they want to be heard. It is easy to take a few minutes and listen attentively.
Every day in my marriage counseling practice I have the opportunity to listen to my clients. Life gives me myriad opportunities to listen to my sweetheart, friends, colleagues, family, people at the bank, the lady struggling with the gas pump, the crying 7 year old at the market… You have the same and similar prospects.
There is an extensive amount of skill that goes into great listening. It is a competence that goes beyond being quiet and shaking your head. There is more to it than sitting there with two fingers on your cheek, like Carl Rogers used to do when he was first teaching us all how to listen.
Be active about your listening. Be enthusiastic. Be extremely attentive. Look at the other and have good eye contact as they speak. Get into the other person’s world and resonate with them. Feel empathy with that soul. That means you MUST set aside your point of view. Don’t even put it on the back burner; take it off the stove. Your perspective means nothing until it is your turn to talk and after you have demonstrated you have heard and understood the other.
As you are paying close attention, try to see yourself in the speaker’s situation. Use all your senses to be in their particular set of circumstances or the conditions that characterize their situation, event or life. If you know the person well, apply all the knowledge you know about them to get into their “skin.” You want to give the speaker a gift of you walking with them on their life journey as they describe the experience they are sharing. Enter their world for a few minutes and really “get it.” You are learning about their perspective.
When they are done talking, you have another important task to do which proves you are a remarkable listener. You have to let the other person know you were really there with them when they spoke. The way you prove you entered their world is to summarize what you heard them say. Use the key words they used and be sure to recount each point they made. You are acting like a mirror, reflecting back their description or opinion. The speaker has the right to correct you and keep correcting until you pass this test with 100%.
If there is something they shared which you did not understand, ask them and then listen actively and summarize the new information until you get this additional part 100% correct. Be careful not to put the person on the defensive when you ask. Stay neutral.
The third task is to validate their feelings and experience. Usually they will have shared what they were feeling. Let them know you understand how they felt or what feelings they experienced in the situation they described. Try to use the same words they used. Also try to add additional feelings you think they might have had. For example, you might say, “I can see that you felt sad and upset about what happened. I would assume you also could have felt devastated or disappointed.”
It is necessary you let the speaker know you “got into” or empathized with them by letting them know you understand how it affected them and made them feel. This is where you can demonstrate you understand them at a deep level. With our previous example we could add, “I can see that you might also have felt discounted and like you didn’t matter in the relationship. In fact, it seems like you didn’t have a say in this decision and maybe many others…”
Be careful that you don’t read too much into it. However, the speaker should correct you if you are wrong about their feelings. Watch them carefully for their responses to what you are saying. If so, summarize and validate each correction until you get your 100% test score.
For example, you might say, “That would make me wonder if I belonged in this relationship.” If that is going too far, the speaker will correct. But if you are accurate, you may help the speaker to go deeper into their own feelings and experience.
Now that you have indicated you understand what was said and how the other person felt, you have the opportunity to go into any agreement you possibly can. You might simply say, “I would feel that way too if that happened to me.” Or, “That would upset me, too.” Or. “That is an upsetting situation!” You may also find points in the description or explanation with which you can agree, not mentioning the ones with which you disagree. You also may not have anything in which there is agreement and that is okay.
Any agreement strengthens the speaker’s knowledge that you understand and care about their experience or opinion.
YOU BECOME THE SPEAKER AND GET TO EXPRESS YOUR POINT OF VIEW
Finally, you get to say what you want. Now you get to think about what you want to say, your perspective or opinion. Try to avoid attacking the other person’s belief, generalizing, minimizing, name calling, blaming, etc. Speakers need to show respect for different perspectives, as do listeners. The other person now needs to actively listen, summarize and validate what you say as well as go into agreement about anything you said or felt.
I encourage all of you to practice this so you become talented in your listening ability and can give your listening to others. It will attract others to you and they will like you. And you will give them the precious gift of being understood and respected. Everyone wants to be heard and understood.
Practicing with your spouse or partner is an exercise in intimacy. This kind of listening brings understanding and closeness, removing barriers in the relationship. Usually it leads to a better relationship and better sex!
Practicing with your children will bring them closer to you, give you more information about them and teach them to develop good listening skills. It brings more respect and love.
Practicing with your co-workers and customers makes you a better person, leader, friend, and representative of the business. It also handles complaints in a respectful and knowledgeable manner which can lead to resolutions and contentment in the work place.
Everyone learns acceptance and tolerance of differences through this process.
It makes our world a better place when people listen to each other’s point of view, perspective and opinions. You never have to agree, but from understanding and acceptance comes peace.
If you want help in your communications, call me at 702-242-4222 or email me.