“The first duty of love is to listen.” ~ Paul Tillich
“The most basic and powerful way to connect with another person is to listen. Just listen. Perhaps the most important thing we ever give each other is our attention. . . . A loving silence often has far more power to heal and to connect than the most well-intentioned words.” ~ Rachel Naomi Remen
“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 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 want to do something to solve my problem, you have failed me.” ~ Everyone
Can you recall a time when you felt that no one was truly listening to you?
On the other side of the coin, how many times have you dispensed unsolicited advice or tried to talk people out of their feelings? After all, it’s uncomfortable to listen to someone who’s struggling and not want to help, right?
But listening is helping, because when the listener accepts that you feel what you feel, no matter how irrational, then you can quit trying to convince them of your experience, and you can focus on understanding what you need.
Psychologist Carl Rogers cited listening as a growth experience for both the listener and speaker. “When I have been listened to and have been heard, I am able to re-perceive my world in a new way and go on,” Rogers says. “It is astonishing how elements that seem insoluble become soluble when someone listens, how confusions that seem irremediable turn into relatively clear flowing streams when one is heard.”
It’s healing to be witnessed and HEARD when we are struggling, rather than to have people react to us from their own discomfort. Some of the most healing moments in my life were spent with people who sat quietly beside me, not just holding their tongue, but actually receiving what I shared. Can you recall experiences like this, too?
The most therapeutic listeners practice nonjudgmental awareness and witness consciousness for the speaker and also for themselves. There is no processing, interpreting, problem solving, analyzing, helping, or discussing going on during the listening. This takes practice, and leads to active compassion for our self and for the other person. We can practice developing an open, compassionate, listening presence so that it becomes more powerful than most words.