The Power of Listening – Part 2/3

The Power of Listening – Part 2/3

by Steve Beckow

(Continued from Part 1)

Listening Shows We Care

Listening is probably the easiest and most appreciated way to show we care. The deeper we go in our listening, up to the point of release, the more the person feels cared for.

Listening Strategies

When speaking, a person can push an edge, pull it, or be with it. Any way will work and the possession of three strategies ought to allow one to overcome all obstacles to insight and understanding.

People bring up points repeatedly because they don’t feel heard the first time or because they are not sure themselves where they want to go with the subject and are awaiting clarifying feedback.

We can take successive passes at listening to another. Often the first pass allows the speaker to make sense of something. But often the puzzle does not become a picture until they make at least one more pass, during which they explore the emotional truth of the subject. They may also make a third pass to see if anything has been left out. But when they experience release, they usually have no trouble stopping. Once they have experienced release, often all they wish to do is rush home and tell their partners what they have discovered. I usually let them depart as soon as they experience release.

What to Listen for

When we communicate with one another, we use more than just the spoken word to get our message across. We use vocal tone, pitch, gesture, spacing, and silence. Moreover, we couch our messages in metaphors and images, whether consciously or not. All of these the listener must be able to catch. The listener must spread his net widely to trap it all.

Historical Clues
The story/history
The buried memories
Contextual Clues
Conceptual framework
Likes and dislikes
Acts, scripts, and records
Issues, outcomes, and decisions
Vocal Cues
Behavioral Clues
Verbal Clues
Slang and jargon
Emphases and pauses
Issues and Problems

The difference between issues and problems is that issues are general, subjective, personal, and not measurable while problems are specific, objective, impersonal, and measurable.


You’ll get as much as you do until the point where you kick in with counselling, advice, or coaching. Once you begin to advise, the speaker is blocked, the train of thought is broken, and the speaker stops.

Listening to Onself

Unfortunately, good listeners are hard to come by. Until they are not, you may need to furnish yourself with the listening you need.

There are a number of ways to describe the process of listening to yourself. You could call it a two-handed internal conversation. You could say you make an object of yourself.

Any way you characterize it, you play both speaker and listener internally. Give it all you’ve got because you yourself need listening more than anyone, if you’re to be there for another.

Listening as a Gift

The greatest boon to any relationship is the gift of listening.

The Building Blocks of Communication

Misunderstanding can lead the speaker into frustration. A lack of attention from the listener may lead the speaker into irritation. A lack of grounding may lead the speaker into resignation.

When these outcomes occur, the speaker may feel cheated and incomplete. Or the person may feel despondent, thinking that he or she is not worth listening to. The key to the success of listening is for the listener to want to listen completely, fully, 100 percent. Often to do this, the listener must create the speaker’s undeveloped communication as a mystery, a puzzle, a conundrum, which the listener has an acute interest in helping to reveal or know.

In the days that I was considering counselling as a career, I would often problem solve with my clients,. I would listen to them for a while and then suggest a line of action. But I continually saw people refuse to entertain my solutions and insist instead on finishing their story – even if I had what I considered to be the right answer! Telling the story seemed much more important to them than solving what I regarded as a problem. When I finally relaxed and saw listening itself as the proper approach to the speaker’s need, I found them solving their own “problems.” All I needed to do was listen. This was definitely an easier way of counselling than problem-solving, which I had always found quite stressful.

Say goodbye in here to problem-solving or advising. Your job as counsellors is about to become 100 percent more effective and 100 percent easier. You are about to become listeners.

You probably weren’t taught listening in the family or in school (few of us were). Listening is more than simply turning one’s face in another’s direction and catching words thrown at us. That’s communicational baseball, at most a precursor of listening. Listening means deeply and fully hearing another’s thoughts and feelings, understanding their meaning and intention, seeing what they want and don’t want, what they need and don’t need, without judging or evaluating.

Listening often involves unravelling a jumble. Or it may require developing the “chapter headings” people so often speak in. Or it may mean “cracking their code.” Only when it’s safe to talk will it usually be rewarding to listen. Given deadlines and interruptions, it’s usually hard to have people speak from their heart and harder still to listen deeply. But, if the listening space is safe and free from distractions, the more willing will people be to reveal themselves in speaking.

When to Listen

People want to talk often when they experience too much joy or too much upset. When they’re wild about an accomplishment or down about something that happened, they want to talk about it. They may not stop until you acknowledge that you have heard them and what you heard. Joy-full people who aren’t heard often grind their feelings down and suppress themselves. Then they say that no one cares at work, no matter how well they do.

People also want to be listened to when they’re upset. An upset occurs when you feel your button suddenly pushed – alarms go off and you feel yourself suddenly irritated, mad, or frustrated. Some experience their upsets with storm and thunder. Others go more deeply into themselves and experience their upsets silently. Some glare; others stare with glassy eyes. Few expect to encounter someone who can listen and who cares to.

An upset is a present-time interruption in well-being that is, in some important way, related to earlier, similar events. An issue is a strongly-held preference regarding a way of being or acting that conditions our acting and thinking in the future. An interpretation is a persistent view of one’s self and the world that establishes the “box” within which thinking and acting take place.

Restorative listening involves recognizing when an individual is caught in an upset, gripped by an issue, or imprisoned within an interpretation. It involves knowing when to listen and when to stop listening. And it involves using a range of approaches to facilitate the speaker’s sharing in such a manner that the speaker himself or herself moves towards release.

An upset usually follows a loss or defeat of some kind. It can follow blocked momentum, frustrated expectations, or thwarted intentions. People in an upset experience strong emotions carrying them to far up or too far down for them to maintain unblocked relationship with others and with themselves. People in upset usually relate by tensing the musculature of their bodies, reducing their awareness, ort withholding communication or participation. They may retreat into an act or role that has for them value as a survival strategy.

An upset usually grows until we reach a peak of emotional experience. We often say or do things which are normally suppressed. Although we think our present circumstances determine how we respond, listening shows us that our response is predominantly coloured by our past experiences. We cast contemporary people in past roles belonging to parents or friends, making them stand-ins, and saying things to them that properly should be said to the originals of their type.

After fully expressing ourselves from inside the upset, we may feel temporary relief, but we leave a vast trail of damage and residue in our path, like a tornado that has ripped through town. We may have gone out of relationship with loved ones and now must work our way back in. We may feel obliged to make our damaging actions right and cause further damage. We may have committed ourselves to courses of action that we later regret. Our family and friends may hold us at arm’s length afterwards. In some cases, our treasured relationships may end.

The course of an upset is as follows. In the flow of time, something is said or done that triggers us. We feel an upsurge of strong emotion. We block others and begin to act according to a role. We withhold. We reach a peak and explode. After the release of our explosion, we gradually return to normal, only to survey the damage that we have done.

If we experience repeated major upsets, we may reach a breaking point. We draw a conclusion about affairs or life. From our conclusion, we create an interpretation of life. We make numerous decisions based on our conclusion and interpretation. Soon these matters result in a rule being formed and issues arising which tell us how we are to behave in future so as to avoid falling into the same upsets again. These conditioned ways of acting become our identity, the “box” from which we do not stray. As listeners, we can listen for all these clues to the “box” in which the speaker has imprisoned himself.

See the Other Objectively

You can only hope to find a lasting solution to a conflict if you have learned to see the other objectively, but, at the same time, to experience his difficulties subjectively. (Former U.N. Sectretary-General Dag Hammarskjold in Diane Dreher, The Tao of Inner Peace. New York: Harper, 1990, 236.)

(Continued in Part 3)

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