Listening – is such an essential and fundamental skill of communication. Most of us find it challenging because it doesn’t come naturally but through learning and practice. Our mind is naturally wired to speech, especially self-speech, but not into listening. Listening is, therefore, a conscious act of the mind, which requires constant alertness in catching ourselves tranced in talking.
We have two ears and one mouth so we can listen twice as much as we speak.Epictetus
Here, I would like to remind you of the importance of cultivating listening skills and their healing benefits.
What is empathic listening?
There are several types of listening, which differ in purpose. For this post, I would like to focus more on empathic listening. Empathic listening is mindful(active) listening that goes beyond. Our role as a listener is to make the other person feel seen, heard, and noticed. We do not simply pay attention to the information conveyed from an intellectual perspective but try to retrieve its emotional content.
I believe everyone should practice empathic listening because it is the most common type of listening necessary in day-to-day life.
In daily life, we rarely speak to convey practical information. Most of the time, we want to be heard. We want to share our experiences and/or our feelings.
What we want are someone’s ears. Ironically, what we often get is judgment, unwanted advice, or worse – ignorance. Sometimes, our story even gets stolen. You know that friend who halfway into the conversation interrupts with, “I know exactly how you feel. I have experienced this and that.” Next thing you know, you are listening to her/his story with yours remaining unheard. Your friend certainly had good intentions; she/he just was not mindful of the emotional content you were trying to convey.
Benefits included – What’s in there for you
The primary benefits of listening are to obtain information, to understand, and to learn. It is straightforward when the information conveyed is practical. The question is, what is our motivation when such information is absent? In other words, how do we benefit from lending our ears to someone who wants to share an emotion, an event, or both?
Here’s my perspective based on experience.
Listening with empathy deepens our relationships. The feeling of being seen, heard, and noticed is what any person sharing their story long for. Anyone wants to feel they matter. To a certain extent, we all carry a sense of inadequacy. Our deepest desires lie in acceptance and acknowledgment from others. The listener’s power rests in the ability to gift this feeling to thy person. As Maya Angelou said, people will never forget how you made them feel. With empathic listening, you will gain trust and respect, which will form a solid relationship.
In addition to understanding how the other person feels, you will also understand your feelings better. When you listen mindfully, you act as a mirror. In attempting to understand the emotion hidden behind the spoken words, you will search for a familiar experience of yours to relate to. It is not rare to undergo a deeper understanding of our feelings when we hear someone else share theirs.
Therefore, listening with empathy is a natural healing process for both the speaker and the listener.
How to : Hold space with the magic question
Since listening is a skill to learn and practice, it may seem like a lot of effort required, but trust me, it’s more straightforward than it appeared when you know what to do. A simple gesture of acceptance and acknowledgment, such as nodding or “I see.” is more than enough.
Recently, I learned a technique that supports empathic listening. Simply ask this question;
How would you like to be received?
This question successfully relays to the other person that she/he is respected and given a safe space to share her/his thoughts. In the beginning, it may sound pretentious. To ease the process, consider giving the speaker three options that will support your listening practice;
- Listen only
- Ask questions
- Give advice
I cannot overstate how many times I wish someone just listened to what I have to say without giving advice or make judgemental comments. This mindful question can do magic! Sometimes, we need ears to think out loud. Other times, we seek to confirm our worthiness.
Now, the speaker can also practice this question to set boundaries. When you want to share a story and know specifically how you want to be received, it is within your responsibility to meet your need.
Next time someone offers you a story, hold your impulse to respond. Catch yourself, and swallow your words by nodding(they won’t notice that way!). In the end, throw your magic question and see how you will make the other person feel, probably surprised but also very delighted.