Quick update on my week, then I will get to this week’s topic.  Last week I told you how I can’t wait to get out and do some yard work.  I was able to remove some dead leaves and such, and I added them to my compost bin.  But what I am really excited about is adding some planting beds and reworking a stone area in front of my deck.  I am putting my landscape design skills to work so I can eventually put my “using big equipment” skills to work.  I will keep you posted on the progress.

On to this week’s topic – listening.  In the current state of a thousand distractions, do you know how to be a good listener?  I have long purported that if you need help, to reach out to a friend, family member, neighbor, etc.  But what if you are the one approached by the seeker who needs to get something off their chest?  Are you prepared to really help them by actively listening?  Here are 8 tips from an article on http://www.thriveglobal.com by Amy Torres, Transformation Coach:

1. Be interested. Many people think listening means keeping quiet until it is their turn to talk. But true listening is a selfless act. Listening means giving your thoughtful attention to another person. This attention is non-judgmental, open-minded, respectful and curious.

2. Listening is receiving. We are receiving the trust and vulnerability of another person. To be a receiver, let yourself be a blank canvas for the other person. Allow your friend to toss out ideas, feelings, contradictory thoughts, and whatever else is coming up. Let her be upset or illogical.

3. Indicate you’re listening with subtle cues. Let the person know that you’re interested by nodding your head, murmuring “mmm hmmm,” and softly echoing a word or short phrase here and there.

4. Attuning and matching. A good listener usually makes eye contact, but might also sit companionably side by side and gaze straight ahead, allowing the talker privacy and intimacy at the same time. Attune yourself to the person talking to you by noticing the degree of eye contact they are making with you and match them…

5. Wait for an organic pause. Try not to interrupt — it’s an amazing gift to provide enough space for someone to let it all out. When there is a lull, and the person seems to have unburdened themselves, that will be the time to speak. When I was a student in Gestalt psychotherapy training, I would eagerly jump in while clients were still talking and a fellow student told me that I wasn’t waiting for the “organic pause” — that natural breath between spoken thoughts that opens the door to another voice chiming in…

6. Acknowledge and empathize. Good listening is not complete silence. When the time comes to speak, briefly reiterate to the person what you heard them say. For example, if your friend tells you in a loud, excitable voice, “My boyfriend had lunch with his ex yesterday! He won’t tell me what they talked about. He’s shutting me out. Does he still love her? Should I break up with him before he breaks up with me?” As a good listener, let her vent. Do not say, “Calm down. Relax. Everything will be okay.” That will only escalate her feelings because she will feel, rightfully so, that you cannot tolerate her being upset.

Instead, use some of her words, and say, “Okay, your boyfriend had lunch with his ex yesterday. Now you’re feeling shut out and scared that he may still love her and want to get back with her?” Your friend will feel “heard” because you actually were strong enough to hear her, instead of trying to get her to calm down on your timetable. Chances are she will say, “Yes!” Then she may burst into tears, or talk some more, or quiet down. You are now helping her productively process her feelings, rather than frantically obsessing over them…

7. Don’t give unasked for advice. Most of us have not been listened to in the way I’m describing, so we’re not used to listening to someone else this way. We may consider ourselves very nice people and have all kinds of good ideas for the person speaking to us about their problem. What we don’t realize is that offering solutions before a person has expressed their upset feelings doesn’t work. Do you want to be told what to do while you’re venting?

8. Make an offering. After acknowledging and empathizing, you have the option of offering something more. It can be something simple like, “How can I help?” or “Would you like some feedback from me?” Chances are your friend feels relieved and solutions are starting to form within her now that she’s cleared a space inside herself. Don’t be surprised if your good listening facilitates her having a revelation about herself or the situation. She may tell you that you’ve done more than enough already! If she does want feedback, this is your opportunity to share your experience and offer advice. Timing is everything — wait until you’re invited.

I hope this helps you be better prepared to be a good friend and confidant when that help-seeker comes calling.  And if you are the help seeker, these tips may be able to assist you in finding the person who can be the BEST ally to get you through a tough situation.  In order for us all to thrive, we need to be ready to help one another, in community, with gratitude and empathy.

I think the quote below beautifully sums up listening:

“Listening is such a simple act. It requires us to be present, and that takes practice, but we don’t have to do anything else. We don’t have to advise, or coach, or sound wise. We just have to be willing to sit there and listen.”  – Margaret J. Wheatley

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