Thursday, April 3, 2014

what listening is not {One Word: listen}

{Each month this year I'm posting on my One Word for 2014: listen.  Here's my latest epiphany, from the month of March... To read the rest of the posts in this series, click here.}

have, happily, discovered something listening is not.

Listening is not just keeping quiet. 

For a long time, I thought to be a good listener meant I had to sit through the whole conversation and bite my tongue, and not say all of the (to me) immensely interesting things popping into my head, which is incredibly hard for me to do.  I love talking, and I’m far too fascinated by myself and my own thoughts, so for me to hold back all the nuggets of wisdom and personal anecdotes which clamor to be shared feels like torture.

But actually, to be a good listener I am allowed to speak: in fact, if I don’t say anything, the other person won’t actually feel heard!  It’s what I say, though, that’s important.  If I truly want to listen, and to have the other person feel I am listening, my responses must:
be about them, not me;

reflect back to them the feelings I am hearing.  

One of the most valuable things a good listener can do for a person is to validate their feelings.  Not just pat them on the head and say, “Yes, yes, dear, I understand”, but really and truly enter into their world and feel with them, and then let them know it.  Let them know you care deeply about how they are feeling, they aren’t crazy for feeling that way, they are a normal, red-blooded human being, and that you would feel the same way if you were in their shoes.

If I manage to convey this, the person I am listening to will feel heard, and not just heard - validated.  Loved.  Accepted.  Comforted.  Immensely relieved.  Just knowing another human being is standing with you in whatever it is you are going through is tremendously comforting.  And sometimes - most of the time, actually - just the standing-with is enough.  

Answers aren’t even needed.  


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