Listeners Blog

Monthly Archives: October 2012


A piece of advice: keep it to yourself

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We’ve mentioned several times here that giving advice is not the same as truly listening. What’s so wrong about trying to help people solve their problems? Let us count the ways that giving advice interferes with listening.

First of all, while you are busy thinking up a solution, you stop hearing the rest of the story. You may think you know what is troubling someone based on a few minutes of conversation, but few people launch into the real issue right away. They tend to talk around what’s really going on at first. Supportive listeners give speakers the time and space to uncover their true concerns by putting them into words.

Second, any advice can only come from your own experience. When you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Just because you think you know what you would do or feel or think about a situation doesn’t mean that would work for anyone else. It’s up to each of us to determine what is right for ourselves, and supportive listeners can be there while we search for our personal truth.

Third, if your advice is rejected, emotion is injected into the conversation. You can feel hurt, since you were only trying to help, after all. The speaker can feel angry, because you obviously didn’t understand what they were really trying to say, or guilty, because they know they won’t – or can’t — take your well-meaning directions. Advice can as often as not lead to arguments, or worse, a total end to talking about anything. Supportive listeners keep the conversation going by keeping their own emotions out of the equation, letting speakers explore their own feelings freely.

The temptation to fix other people’s problems is powerful. Resisting it can be powerfully rewarding, for both the speaker and the listener.



Conversation Interruptus

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Is there anything more frustrating than to be interrupted? In our over-wired world, we can now be interrupted any time, anywhere, for any reason, by a beep or a buzz or a ringtone. Think about the sales clerk who stops ringing up your purchases to answer the phone. Whoever is on the line is obviously way more important than you, standing right in front of her, with your credit card in hand.

Interruptions not only derail our train of thought, but also short-circuit any emotional connections we may be making. We can — and should — turn off our devices to limit electronic intrusions during conversations, so we can give our attention entirely to the people we are talking to right now.

Before aggressive talk-show hosts and hard-charging celebrity CEOs turned conversation into a martial art, not interrupting someone speaking was plain good manners and important if you were to get ahead in the world. Listening to other people means understanding what they are saying, not trying to decide what you are going to say to score gotcha points.

Let the other person finish a thought or a story before jumping in with your own. If you aren’t really listening to them, you don’t have a clue if what you say is appropriate or not. More to the point, you let them know you don’t really care what they are talking about – or what they are about as a person.

If you are really listening, you’ll want to ask questions to make sure you understand what they say. This lets them know you are focused on them, what they think, what they are feeling, who they are. That is a rare and wonderful gift to give, and you might be surprised to discover that really listening can feel as wonderful as being truly heard.



How we listen

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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.



Hearing yourself think

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“Thinking out loud” is more than a well-worn phrase. How many times have you been in a group where talking about a new idea has sparked the creative process? Once a thought is spoken, it can lead to other thoughts and feelings, not just in a listener but in the speaker as well.

There is also a deeper truth in the idea that sometimes you “can’t hear yourself think.” When you are dealing with life challenges on your own, without being able to express your thoughts, you are less likely to reach a solution. Talking it through really does help, if you have the right person to talk to.

A supportive listener can help you gain clarity surrounding your issues, without coaching or judging or offering advice. The most important aspect of a healing conversation is that you, the speaker, know that you have been truly, deeply, completely heard. That allows you to really listen to yourself – to hear yourself think all the way through to a new life path.

For many people, truly being heard in supportive, non-judgmental way is a new experience. It can bring up powerful emotions; it might even be a little scary. But that’s OK. It’s all part of your journey to self-discovery and healing.