So. Please remember, again, that nothing in this blog is intended to diagnose or treat. But, I thought I'd share some tips on what it really means to listen - what might help to get into a place where you really hear somebody else. I know, I know. It should be easy.
Too bad it's not.
Also, this is not advice on how to counsel somebody. Therapists do some of the following, but add a little bit extra. Hey. A magician never reveals her tricks (she said, completely tongue in cheek). This is just a tiny snackling of advice on how you might put yourself in a spot to be a warm, empathetic, listening friend.
Here's my first piece of advice:
It can't be about you. Really. Truly. If we're going to put ourselves in a place where we are truly trying to understand another person, our agendas, what we want to say, our own stories ... they have to be put aside. At least momentarily. What might this take? Maybe becoming mindful in the moment and reminding yourself silently that it's not time to talk. Becoming mindful might also mean listening to yourself as you listen and monitoring your thoughts. Are you focusing on what the other person is saying - or - are your thoughts immediately wandering to how what the other person is saying relates to you. Let it not relate to you. Give yourself permission to let go of your own story (for just a moment!) and realize that your job, in that moment, is to receive the other person's story. We can train our thoughts. Absolutely. And we can train our speech. Absolutely. If you find yourself automatically jumping in with your own story, talking about your own feelings, etc., that's ok. Name it to yourself, be present in the moment and then steer it back. Things take practice. It's ok.
Here's my second piece of advice:
This is so basic I feel like I'm going to offend everybody. But, it's still true: make eye contact. Focus. Get that connection with your speaker.
Third piece of advice:
As you're being mindful and focusing on the other person, check your empathy. Can you guess what the other person might be feeling? Would it be ok to gently reflect that back? It's ok if you're not entirely accurate. Really. It's ok if your guess at their feeling isn't entirely accurate because if you're listening gently and you're in that space of being truly present with someone else, they'll probably be gentle back with you. Sometimes when we guess wrong, it gives the other person permission to correct you and keep talking.
Ask open ended questions, but ask them at appropriate times. Pauses are good. Don't interrupt. Wait for a break. If you've been following closely, there should be something to ask about. But don't ask things like, "Why did you think THAT was a good idea?" Maybe something like, "That sounds tough. How have you been doing with all of that?" Or. "What happened next?"
Try summarizing and paraphrasing. It might sound hokey as you're doing it. Eh. That's ok. You're not trying to therapize somebody. Prefacing your summary with, "That's a lot. Just to make sure I understand, it sounds like ....."
And, that's all I have.
You might have more, though, and if so, I'd invite you to please feel free to share your thoughts.
I don't everything.
I don't even know a lot.
I just really love people and their stories.
And I firmly believe that listening to each other with acceptance, compassion and authentic love frees us to be our true selves.
So, here's to your true self, friend. May your journey in listening and being listened to be blessed. May you know love and be validated.
It's a good place to be.