Listening is Fixing
August 29, 2012 by
Categories: Relationships

The act of listening seems so simple to do. All it takes is being quiet while another person talks, right? As an intern therapist, it’s what I signed up to do for a living, but I have quickly learned real listening is more than just being present and actually takes effort.

When I think about certain times I’ve “listened,” I guiltily remember how another person was talking, but the whole time I had been thinking of what to say back. Or I think of a time where I’ve felt that way too and my reply is a story about me. I bet that person didn’t feel heard at all.

In a poem by Ralph Roughton, he states the following three things better than I can: “When I ask you to listen to me and you start giving me advice, you have not done what I asked. When I ask you to listen to me and you begin to tell me why I shouldn’t feel that way, you are trampling on my feelings. When I ask you to listen to me and you feel you have to do something to solve my problems, you have failed me.”

There’s a subtle difference between listening and hearing. Listening is the act of appearing to absorb information, and hearing is when you are able to sort out what is being said and actually detect how a person is feeling. Better yet, it’s being able to repeat that feeling back to that person and make them feel understood. (Trust me, they’ll tell you if you got it wrong!)

This takes trial and error, but it’s always better to ask than to assume or read someone else’s thoughts. At the least, telling someone “I’d feel the same way” or “I understand” acknowledges that you’re hearing them.

I can think of several instances where I’ve felt helpless if I didn’t know how to “fix” a situation or help a friend by saying exactly the right thing. Then I realized it’s not always about saying the perfect words, and more often than not, you don’t have control over what happens. In fact (and in the wise words of my professor): Listening is fixing.

If you’re like me and it’s difficult for you to sit back and not try to make a person instantly feel better, this is not an easy thing to believe. However, some of the most comforting times I’ve had with friends and family are when they sat by me and were simply there without judgment. They allowed me to express whatever it was I needed to feel, even if it was hard for them to see me hurt, frustrated or angry.

The bottom line is that no one wants to be told that his or her feelings are irrational. By not fully listening, that is the message that is being sent. I can’t think of anything more invalidating than spilling your guts to someone and being told “you’ll be fine” in return.

Next time you’re in a conversation or argument, take the time to really listen and hear one another — before you jump to talking about you or defending yourself. You may be surprised how much this changes conversations, friendships and relationships for the better.


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