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Tag Archives: Understanding and empathy

Mar
25

Of all the ills that beset mankind in the 21st century, the cruelest must be Alzheimer’s disease. It robs its victims of the most precious gift of advancing age – the companionship of family and friends – by taking away the ability to have meaningful conversations.

Modern research is focused on finding the causes and perhaps a cure for or at least a way to lessen or postpone the advancement of Alzheimer’s, but it has been with us for a very long time. In “Hamlet,” Shakespeare describes our return to “second childishness and mere oblivion” as we age.

Amid the challenges and frustrations of daily caregiving for spouses or parents or grandparents suffering from dementia, it is important to take the time to follow them on their conversational journeys. The first step is to let go of your own need to keep them connected to the real world or grounded in the present.

Does it really matter that your mom thinks you are your sister, and talks like you’re not in the room? Depending on family dynamics, it might be hurtful, but what is there to be gained from an argument? Nothing but resentment on your part, since she won’t understand – or remember.

Instead, take a deep breath and think back to the patience she had when you were just learning to talk, listening to you tell the same story over and over until you got it right (for you). Maybe she even held conversations with your imaginary friends, because she knew they were real and important to you.

It may be time to return the favor, and use your active listening skills, your empathy and understanding, to let her know you’re there, no matter when or where she thinks that is. She may not appreciate it, but in the long run, you will.

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Feb
8

You want to be a supportive listener. You want to be there for your friend, you want to really hear and give the gift of understanding. But you’re having a problem finding enough empathy inside yourself to help them find their inner truth.

Maybe you hear them get stuck on a lack of material things that you don’t value. Maybe you think they are creating their own relationship conflict just to add drama to their life. Maybe you want to let them know that they have reached a cul-de-sac on their conversational journey.

It happens. We’re all human, and it’s difficult not to have an emotional reaction while listening to other people talk through their issues.

In fact, just reading about friends’ successes online can make us feel less satisfied with our own lives, according to a new study about the new phenomenon called “Facebook Envy.”

But here’s one fascinating takeaway about “Facebook Envy.” The people most likely to become jealous and frustrated are those who passively read posts and look longingly at others’ vacation photos without engaging in any active conversations themselves. Their passivity puts them in a position to be envious!

In real life, an active, engaged listener will let someone know when it sounds like they are taking an unproductive talk detour. They will speak up. To do this while still remaining supportive, you must first understand and be in command of your own feelings. Why does this particular topic cause a reaction in you as an engaged listener? Next, earnestly try to understand if there might be more going on behind the actual words being spoken.

Once you have that sorted out, it is important to let the speaker know how you are feeling. Honestly acknowledge all the emotions in play on both sides, so a deeply meaningful conversation can take place.

Helpful tip on managing emotions:

A “mysteriously” helpful exercise to lessen the awful feelings that accompany being envious or judgmental is to recognize when you are having either of these feelings and actually identify and say to yourself “envy” or “judging.” With practice, labeling these feelings becomes a powerful, helpful habit that can greatly lessen being envious or judgmental.

Let us know how this practice works for you.

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Nov
26

The end of the year is a special time of transition. In many cultures, it is important to enter the new year with debts paid and quarrels settled so we can refresh our relationships with others.

Unfortunately, in our modern society, the crazy-busy season from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day can be anything but conducive to renewal and reflection. Many people feel overwhelmed by the crush of activities, family obligations and expectations for the “perfect” holiday extravaganza. In fact, the dysfunctional over-the-top holiday dinner with the extended family has become a Hollywood cliché.

Instead of approaching the festivities with dread, why not give the gift of truly listening? If your holidays include a gathering of relatives from far away, find someone you haven’t seen for a while and make time to catch up. Be genuinely interested in what they have been doing, what changes they may have been going through, their plans for the coming year and beyond. Listen more than you speak, and ask questions that show you really care about how the other person is feeling.

The sense of connection such a simple, heart-felt conversation can create may seem like a Christmas miracle, but it’s the sort of experience that we can all share throughout the year by simply listening deeply.

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Nov
1

Good supportive listeners obviously pay attention to what other people say. By truly listening, we allow other people space to express their deeper feelings and find their personal inner truth.

But did you know that more than half of the total impact of a spoken message is nonverbal? Only 7 percent of any message is carried by the words used alone. That leaves nearly 40 percent of the meaning of any conversation to be conveyed vocally – the tone of voice, inflection, pauses, speed of responses, etc.

Supportive ListeningWe all know how this works. You call your friend on the phone, and even though you can’t see the other person, you can tell that there’s something wrong. They sound down, or irritated, or distracted. You can’t see their body language but you can hear it. Even when they say, “Oh, nothing. I’m fine, really.”

Your ear hears the words, but your brain says they don’t match the sounds between the words. Something else is going on, and it’s most likely something important.

This is when a good listener begins to ask questions to help the speaker explore those important underlying issues. The crucial factor is to ask with empathy.

A supportive listener doesn’t call someone out for avoiding a subject. A supportive listener lets the speaker know it’s OK to talk about serious topics, that the listener will hear without judging or confronting. When the speaker feels safe expressing difficult thoughts and feelings, the conversation can progress into areas of enlightenment, for both parties.

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Oct
8

We believe that everyone carries inside themselves the potential for problem-solving that leads to personal growth. As supportive listeners, our job is not to figure out “What can I do to solve this person’s problem?” but to instead help our clients find their own answers and insights.

 

This style of listening involves four components, once identified by psychologist Carl Rogers as empathy, acceptance, congruence, and concreteness.

Empathy is the effort to understand your internal frame of reference. We try to understand your thoughts and feelings as they are, not as someone else thinks they should be. We want to hear you without judging you, so you can explore your problems — and yourself — according to your own lights.

Acceptance means having respect for a person for simply being a person. Unconditional acceptance encourages you to be less defensive and to explore aspects of your situation that you might have otherwise kept hidden.

Congruence requires openness, frankness and genuineness on the part of the listener. As congruent listeners, we are in touch with our feelings and communicate them honestly. This allows you to come out from behind your own façade and begin your journey to true self-knowledge.

Concreteness focuses on specifics rather than generalities. When talking about painful feelings, it might seem easier to be vague, but you can’t solve personal problems with impersonal language. Our listeners encourage concreteness by asking you to talk about actual incidents connected to your important life issues so you can explore them fully.

Our listeners know that the most important part of being heard is feeling that you have been completely understood. We are happy to hold up our end of meaningful conversations that help you along the way to personal discovery.

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Sep
17

When you want to talk about important issues, you aren’t necessarily looking for advice. But how many times have you heard someone else’s opinion on what you should do with your life — even when that doesn’t help sort out your deeper ideas and emotions?

Telling people what to do is easy; truly listening to someone in search of a personal truth is hard work. It requires the listener to let go of the natural impulse to solve problems. We are doing something vitally important by just being here; there’s no need to direct someone else’s life-movie.

Sometimes casual listeners are not even aware they have stepped into the role of director. But saying things to make you “feel better” about painful issues or providing their “perspective” on your situation actually moves the conversation away from your intensely personal exploration. Directive listening derails the process of understanding; supportive listening clears the tracks to personal enlightenment.

It takes time, space and conversational support for anyone to feel that he or she has truly been heard. Listeners need to know when someone is looking for advice and when what that person really needs is someone to relate to in the present, in a non-judgmental way. Talking to someone who listens with caring and clarity of vision puts you back in the director’s chair in your own life.

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