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.
We 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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