I have to believe that a higher power imbues all good therapists with a heightened ability to listen well—especially to the people we are so honored to call our clients. I truly love listening to the stories of my clients, sharing in their journeys and listening hard to determine what type of healing they need in their current life season. And while I am sure I fall short at times, overall I like to believe that I am good at “listening to” my clients and meeting them in their circumstance—whatever that pain or struggle may be.
In my personal life, however, listening is different. I have emotional ties to the people I communicate most with. We have histories, memories and yes, sometimes emotional baggage too. These are the people I love most and want to love well—even when it is hard. I want them to really hear and see me because they are valuable to me, and I know they want me to deeply hear and see them as well.
So, what do I do when the emotional investment is deep and the stakes are high? When I desperately want to be heard, but they do as well? I start with listening. I listen. I listen some more. And then I repeat back what I have heard—without giving my opinion or judgment. Just their words kindly repeated back to them until they confirm that I have truly heard (and seen) them.
So here is a challenge for you this month. Practice listening. Here is a simple guide to help you.
The next time you are in a conversation with someone try these 3 steps:
1. Communicate: repeat back to the person exactly what they said to you. For example,
“You’re having a hard time in your Chemistry class.”
2. Clarify: ask the person if you properly communicated back to them what they said. For example, “Did I hear you correctly? Is that what you said?”
3. Check out/validate: clarify the person’s statement once more and offer empathy/validation. For example, “It sounds like Chemistry class is hard for you right now. I hear (or see) that you are having a hard time and am sorry.”
And then, here is the hard part….don’t offer a solution or try to convince them of anything. And don’t give your opinion. Just see and hear them. Sometimes the other person will naturally start spouting off possible solutions and sometimes the person will just sit in silence. But no matter what, they will feel heard, seen and honored by you.
I will speak more about communication and conflict resolution skills in next month’s blog. For now, if you are struggling in a relationship or with any mental health issue, a psychotherapist can help you. We offer individual, adolescent, couples’ and family counseling. Please call Life Enhancement Counseling Services today at 407-443-8862 to schedule an appointment with an experienced Orlando clinician.