Listeners Blog


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.



Did you feel you just weren’t heard today?

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We’ve mentioned before that one of our core beliefs is that being heard is valuable. We are here to hear you, to support you in your journey to discover your inner truth.

We feel listening is important because there are so many times when it can be a struggle to be heard. Think about the last time you tried to talk to your boss. Did he or she interrupt, say you shouldn’t worry, not take your concerns seriously? Or did you get the “look-engaged-until-they-stop-talking” routine they teach in management seminars?

How about your last doctor’s appointment? Studies have shown that while patients need an average of about two minutes to tell their story, doctors let them speak for about 20 seconds before interrupting. The result? After the visit, the doctor and the patient have very different interpretations of why the patient was there — nearly 50 percent of the time. The doctor wasn’t listening; the patient wasn’t heard.

Let us know about a time when you felt you weren’t heard. We’re here to listen.



Listening, not directing

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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.



Can you hear me now?

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What is the difference between hearing and listening? Hearing is the physical act of perceiving sound. Listening is the intellectual act of perceiving meaning. For true communication to occur, we must be willing to do both.

The words “communication” and “communion” share obvious roots. To fully share with another person, to actually “hear where they’re coming from,” we need to set aside everything else. Not just the smartphone and the TV and the to-do list, but also the mental filters that we all have constructed from personal experience and unexamined assumptions.

Information that agrees with our built-in filters finds an easy path into our brains. Input that challenges what we think we know about the world — and ourselves — has a more difficult time getting through. That’s why truly listening to and understanding another person can be hard work.

It’s not hard to pass judgment on the words someone says, point out their “errors” or tell them what to do, and move on. It is much more challenging to listen intentionally to the meaning behind the words, to keep an open mind and an open heart that allows their search for their own truth to unfold. When we speak, we should acknowledge the value of their ideas and encourage further revelations.

How do we know we have really listened to another person? It can be a transformational experience. Both speaker and listener feel uplifted, inspired, connected on a deeper level — a true communion.



Talking to Strangers in the Air

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Airplanes offer a unique opportunity for a positive listening experience. Not only are they one of the few public places not yet filled with cellphone shouters, they also place us in close, nearly intimate, proximity to our seatmates for hours. And unless you’re traveling to an industry convention or a secluded resort, there’s a good chance you’ll never see the person next to you again.

The next time you find yourself sharing an armrest with a complete stranger, forget what your mother always told you. Instead of sticking in the earbuds, try striking up a conversation. A neutral comment about the weather, getting to the airport, your destination can signal a willingness to talk; following up with a question will let you know if your seatmate is also interested in talking. If not, respect his or her privacy and read your SkyMall.

If the person next to you wants to interact, remember the first rule of good conversation: “It’s better to be interested than interesting.” Decide to listen totally to the other person. Be attentive, make eye contact, and acknowledge that you are hearing the other person without judgment. Don’t interrupt, don’t think ahead to what you’ll say next, don’t overshare. Ask more questions, make fewer statements.

Remember, a real conversation is a two-handed game. If you start small and listen with an open heart and an open mind, you may find that by the time you touch down, you have both had a transformational experience.



The power of the listening ear

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“To say that a person feels listened to means a lot more than just their ideas get heard. It’s a sign of respect. It makes people feel valued.” – Deborah Tannen

Social media has brought people together like no other technological advancement in history. The paradox of this increased connectivity is that many of us feel less deeply connected to other human beings. We share information, but we rarely have meaningful conversations about our complex feelings online.

As humans, we need to share our ideas, our problems, our relationships, to help sort out the good and bad about our journey through life. Philosophers, psychiatrists, spiritual teachers, writers, artists — anyone who has ever had a best friend or an understanding grandparent — all know the value of having someone to talk to openly and freely, in complete confidence.

“One person who is truly understanding, who takes the trouble to listen to us as we consider a problem, can change our whole outlook on the world.” — E. H. Mayo

Such a confidant has our complete, unconditional trust. He or she listens to us when we need to be heard, to help us find the answers and knowledge locked away within us. Speaking to a confidant can be personally transformative, as we let our thoughts and feelings out into the world with another caring human being who will keep them — and us — safe and secure.

“Listening is a magnetic and strange thing, a creative force. When we are listened to, it creates us, makes us unfold and expand.” — Karl Menninger