Listening effectively is one of the best and most loving gifts that we can offer to another person. This is especially true when somebody is hurt or upset about something and shares it with us. All too often, in spite of our good intentions, we find ourselves responding to others in ways that are not effective.
Here are three principles that help us to respond with compassion and effectiveness when people share their feelings with us.
1. Listen with openness, not judgment.
The first thing that people need when they share something that hurts or upsets them is a sense that it is safe to talk. This means that when they tell us what happened or how they are feeling, we will not judge, criticize, shame or blame them. This is what allows them to trust us and feel up.
That we don’t judge does not mean that we have no sense of right and wrong. Rather, it means that we put that aside and listen with compassionate ears. It is to focus on the heart that is sharing its hurt with us, rather than on our sense of right/wrong.
2. The key is the feelings and needs.
The second thing that people want is for their experience, and especially their feelings, to be understood. This is because the key to any situation is how the person feels about it. This attempt to understand how another is feeling in a given situation, and doing so with no criticism or judgment, is called “empathy.”
One excellent way to express empathy is to reflect back to the person what we imagine the experience was like. There is an art to doing this that is hard to convey in a short article; in my Communicating with Compassion course we spend the first four sessions on this. That having been said, here is a simple example:
If somebody is sharing with us a story about how she was ridiculed for asking a certain question, we might ask ourselves how we feel when we are ridiculed. We would then reflect that feeling back and see if this indeed is how she felt. We might say, “So you felt embarrassed and humiliated.”
It is of course important to say this in a gentle tone and a caring way. It is remarkable how often a simple reflection of feelings, when done with no judgment or criticism, creates an initial sense of relief. It also tends to open the speaker’s heart to share more of the experience.
She might add that she was going to be with these people for the next 10 hours, and was concerned that they might ridicule her again. To which we might respond, “So you were feeling unsafe.”
This might go on for a few rounds. If we stay with reflecting feelings, with no judgment or criticism, and only a desire to understand the other’s experience, the result will often be a sense of deep relief and the ability to arrive at a sense of resolution.
3. Wait before offering advice.
We often have ideas and information that might be helpful to the other. And yet, it is very important to first understand and reflect the feelings, and only then to offer advice. When people are upset, what they need first, before anything else, is empathy. Only after the feelings have been heard and acknowledged are people ready for advice.
Offering advice before that point might be well intentioned but is in fact misguided. It could easily result in people being irritated or hurt. When people are ready for advice, there are some keys to how to offer it.
To receive my FREE special report “How To Be Smart About Giving Advice,”simply enter your information in the box on the right of this page, and I will send it right out to you. Putting these three principles to work will make a significant difference in your relationships. Try it and you’ll see!
I hope this article has been of value to you in assisting you to learn the keys to listening effectively. I encourage you to share it with anyone you feel can benefit from it. I also encourage, welcome, and appreciate your questions and comments.