Listening skills is one of the first things taught in counselling skills training. This may sound a little basic but really listening is not that easy. It takes practice to stay with what someone else is saying, to remain present and not to interrupt.
The problem is, most of the time when someone is talking we are not really listening to what they are saying, instead we are thinking about our related experiences and what we are going to say in reply. I imagine you will know what I mean and have experience of talking only to be interrupted or upstaged by your friend’s similar yet grander experience. This can leave us feeling deflated and unimportant. This is why I firmly believe that learning to listen properly is a life skill and not something just for those in the counselling profession.
So what is listening really about? Let’s start by looking at what listening is NOT.
You ARE NOT LISTENING to me when …
You do not care about me
You say you understand before you know me well enough
You have an answer to my problem before I’ve finished telling you what my problem is
You cut me off before I’ve finished speaking
You finish my sentences for me
You feel critical of my vocabulary, grammar or accent
You are dying to tell me something
You tell me about your experience, making mine seem unimportant
Now let’s look at what really listening involves.
You ARE LISTENING to me when …
You come quietly into my private world and let me be me
You really try to understand me even if I’m not making much sense
You grasp my point even when it is against your own sincere convictions
You realise that the hour I took from you has left you a bit tired and drained
You allow me the dignity of making my own decisions even though you think they might be wrong
You do not take my problem from me, but allow me to deal with it in my own way
You hold back your desire to give me good advice
You do not offer religious solace
You give me enough room to discover for myself what is really going on
(The above lists Contributed by the Bloemfontein Samaritans, South Africa)
When we feel listened to and properly heard we feel valued. This is a good place for counselling therapy to start.