“The greatest good you can do for another is not just to share your riches but to reveal to him his own.” Benjamin Disraeli
Listening. It’s a very powerful tool but unfortunately not well utilized.
I propose that if we all learned to listen better, there would be less of a need for therapists. I myself am a social worker and have been providing counseling to clients for years.
I have often felt that I was working as a well-paid or glorified listener; that if “lay” people could just listen better, there would be less of a need for professional listeners.
Those clients who simply need a safe place to unload and vent would already have a space where what they say matters for that time period, where they feel heard and acknowledged.
As human beings, we all have a universal need to feel heard and understood.
I might be going out on a limb to say that I find many people to be quite self-centered in their conversation, or perhaps I should say in their monologue.
They love to hear themselves talk, rarely ask the other questions, and when they finally allow the other person to speak, they quickly bring it right back to themselves.
In the book The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein, there is a paragraph on this listening business.
Narrated by a dog, it reads “I never deflect the course of the conversation with a comment of my own. People, if you pay attention to them, change the direction of one another’s conversations constantly…. Pretend you are a dog like me and listen to other people rather than steal their stories.”
Tips to Listen Fully
1. Realize the distinction between listening and hearing.
Hearing is an auditory/physiological process. Listening involves the whole person—mind, heart, and soul. Attentiveness, interest, and concern need to shine through.
Listen with your whole self. Forget yourself for a short while and show an interest. There’s so much to learn from people. Everybody has a story.
2. Reflect back on what the other says.
Comment on it; it makes them feel heard. All too often we bring it back to ourselves. Let people feel that it’s all about them for that moment.
3. Be present and stay focused.
Stay with the other person’s talk. It’s obvious when the listener is simply thinking about his next comment.
4. Ask questions—meaningful ones.
Not the concrete 5 W questions (where, what, who, when, why). It shows you really want to understand the other person, not just participate at the bare minimum.
5. Acknowledge feelings.
I know this can sound like touchy feely stuff, but it’s the crux of good communication. It’s worth repeating again: when people feel understood, they’re less likely to get defensive and argumentative.
As human beings, our visceral need is to feel held, with words, rather than to receive solutions.
When we get the space and understanding we need, we can usually come to our own answers. And if not, there’s always time to brainstorm for possible solutions.
In the simple act of listening, you can reveal much to someone else. What if we all just listened more?
About Harriet Cabelly
Harriet Cabelly, LCSW is a therapist specializing in grief, loss. and critical life situations. She's also a speaker, author, and group leader. Harriet works from the lens of positive psychology and existentialism. She has a private practice seeing clients both in-person and virtually. She is passionate about helping people cope and grow through critical life-changing circumstances. Harriet is the author of Living Well Despite Adversity: Inspiration for Finding Renewed Meaning and Joy in Your Life. Visit her at rebuildlifenow.com.