Listeners Blog

Tag Archives: Developing Awareness


Blah, blah, blah, Ginger, blah, blah

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With cellphones everywhere, we have all heard our share of one-sided conversations. Most of us automatically tune out these days, since we don’t really need to know the dinner plans of the person sitting next to us on the bus. We bring down our personal Cone of Silence to protect ourselves from involuntary eavesdropping.

Unfortunately, we can also carry this defensive inattention with us into the rest of our day. In situations where people are wearing headsets or Bluetooth devices, it might even be difficult to know whether we are supposed to be part of a face-to-face conversation, so we start listening only for clues about when we are expected to answer. We stop trying to hear what might not be important to us, ignoring that being heard might be extremely important to the person speaking.

Remember the old Far Side cartoon where the man was trying to teach his dog a trick, but all the dog heard was her name: “Blah, blah, blah, Ginger, blah, blah”? Staying on the surface of conversations creates a similar attitude, which makes it difficult to recognize when someone is trying to bring up an important subject, let alone respond appropriately.

We should all check in with ourselves throughout the day to be sure that we are really listening not just to the words other people are saying but to the meaning they are trying to communicate. Especially if they are actually talking to us.



Focus your mind to find your inner truth

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There can be many reasons why you feel that you haven’t been truly heard. Perhaps instead of listening, people you talk to insist on giving you advice, or judging you for having an issue. Perhaps you have felt people spend more time thinking about their reply than to what you are saying.

Or perhaps you are having a problem focusing on your real issues. Every time you try to start a meaningful conversation, you get sidetracked into generalities or wind up talking about what’s important to the other person because you talk around what is really bothering you, especially if it is deeply painful. Even the most empathetic listener has a hard time hearing what isn’t said.

Before you ask someone to help you find your inner truth by listening, find a quiet place where you can take some time to think about the major issues you need to resolve. What is causing you the most stress and anxiety? How do you see yourself in the current situation? Are you willing to embrace whatever self-revelations you may find on your journey?

Once you focus your mind, you will be able to focus the conversation on what you need to hear from yourself. The capacity for self-insight, problem solving and growth resides inside you, but only if you are brave enough to confront your real issues and talk them through.



Mind reading and fortune telling

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What if you could see the future or know exactly what other people were thinking? Not many people can do that – it’s an extremely rare and wonderful gift.

Even without clairvoyant powers, however, it’s easy to fall into the emotional traps of mind reading and fortune telling. And rather than enhance your life, these negative mental habits can cause lots of stress and anxiety.

Mind reading is when you jump to conclusions based on how you think other people see you. You assume others have a low opinion of you without any evidence. A conversation stops when you come into the room and you “just know” they were just then saying bad things about you.

Fortune telling leads you to predict the worst possible outcome of any situation. You were nervous during an interview, so you “just know” you won’t get the job, no matter how qualified you are. When you start to act on these assumptions, you can actually create the outcome you were dreading.

The best way to avoid these thinking traps is to talk through your issues with a supportive listener. If you ask yourself out loud why you think people are talking you down behind your back, you’ll probably hear how little sense that makes. If you can share your fears and doubts, they don’t seem so overwhelming and you can find positive ways to avoid your own worst-case scenario.

Find someone who can really hear you and help you put into your own words what is keeping you from finding your inner peace. When you do find it, you’ll know the future looks brighter.



Listen Like a Beginner

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Here at the beginning of a new year — a year that also marks the beginning of a number of new great cycles— we are filled with anticipation of all the possibilities before us. How better to stay open to those possibilities than to listen like a beginner?

Zen philosophy teaches “in the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.” When you let go of the idea that you know everything there is to know about a subject, you can look at it with new eyes. When you let go of the idea that you know everything about another person, you can listen with new ears.

When someone needs a supportive listener to help talk through some important issues, they are not necessarily looking for answers. If you open up your beginner’s ear, you can hear what they are saying without any preconceptions or judgments. If you allow them to find their own truth without imposing your own approach to problem-solving — “If I were you, I’d do this” or “Here’s what you should do” — the results can be incredibly powerful, for both of you.

By talking to someone with a beginner’s ear, you can discover thoughts and solutions that come from your inner being. By listening with a beginner’s ear, you will learn that you don’t know what you don’t know.

And knowing that can be the beginning of wisdom.



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.



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.