Relationships: The Art of ListeningBy Dr. Margaret Paul
June 09, 2009
Really listening to someone and caring about their feelings is a great gift, but it is important to understand when listening is appropriate and when it is not.
In 1974, Dr. Virginia Satir presented the concept of mirroring in her groundbreaking book, "Conjoint Family Therapy."
In 1975 Dr. Thomas Gordon wrote a best-selling book called "Parent Effectiveness Training." In the book he taught parents to "active listen," which means to reflect back to the speaker the feelings and information they are trying to convey.
Mirroring, or active listening, is a powerful tool, but whether or not it works depends upon your intent.
If you are active listening to another with an agenda to get them to see what they are doing wrong, or to get them to listen to you after you listen to them, then your intent in listening is to control. The person you are listening to can easily pick up the energy of control and will get angry or go into resistance. Listening with the intention to control backfires and creates confusion in communication.
However, active listening from a true desire to understand another's feelings and point of view can be magical. When you listen to learn and understand, rather than to control, you give the other person a great gift.
We all want to be heard and understood. While it is our responsibility to hear and understand ourselves - our own feelings and needs - and take loving action for ourselves, it also feels wonderful when someone we care about hears and understands us. This is the basis of emotional intimacy.
When I work with couples, I teach them that there are only two healthy ways of dealing with conflict:
1. Move into an intent to learn
2. Speak your truth and lovingly disengage
Moving Into an Intent to Learn
When you really desire to understand another, you move into an intent to learn - both about yourself and about them. Actively listening to the other is a major aspect of learning. When you really want to deeply know another, you listen carefully and mirror back to them what you hear them saying and feeling. It is not a matter of agreeing with them, but of understanding them. It is not about changing them or changing yourself, but about really hearing them and attempting to see the world through their eyes - understanding the good reasons they have for feeling and behaving as they do.
Your partner: "I'm still angry at you for being late and not calling me when you know I worry about you."
You: "So when I don’t call when I'm going to be late, you feel I don't care about the fact that you worry."
Your partner: "Right. If you really cared about me, you wouldn't want me to worry."
You: "I understand. It hurts you when you know that I know you worry and I don't seem to care about that."
Partner: "Yes, that's exactly right. So if you understand this, are you going to start to call me when you are late?"
You: It sounds to like you believe that if I understand you, then I will change - that I have no good reasons for not calling, is that right?
If your partner is open, this dialogue can continue until it feels complete to both of you. Or, if your partner does not want to hear why you were late without calling, you need to let go of getting him or her to hear you and lovingly disengage. That's the hard part!
Speaking Your Truth and Lovingly Disengaging
There are times when, even if you are open to learning and really want to understand the other, he or she is just intent on trying to get you to change. When this is the case, you might want to speak your truth and lovingly disengage. This looks like saying something like: "I'd love to continue talking about this when you are open to listening to me and understanding why I was late without calling," and then walking away, keeping your heart open. This means that you are not withdrawing in anger or blame. You are staying in compassion for yourself and the other person, so that if he or she opens, you have no residue of hurt, anger or blame.
Resolution occurs when both people are open to learning and listening without a controlling agenda. True listening is an act of giving with no expectation of anything in return. It is a kind and loving way to interact with someone you care about. It is a great gift.
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By Dr. Margaret Paul