Horne: Listening more than just hearing words

Five steps that can accompany active listening to provide authentic emotional validation, especially to your loved ones.

  • May. 20, 2014 1:00 p.m.

A wise old owl lived in an oak,

The more he saw the less he spoke,

The less he spoke the more he heard.

Why can’t we all be like that wise old bird?

—Unknown author


As I wind my way through life, I am beginning to understand more and more why we are given two ears and one mouth.

The art of listening seems to go hand in hand with humility, and perhaps wisdom and maturity must enter the picture as well.

I was sitting in on a teleconference last week, more as an observer than a participant, and it gave me the opportunity to really listen to all the different styles of those speaking, feeling the energy of how people love to talk, to share their ideas, to be heard, to make their point of view known.

Yet, are we are not so keen to pause, sit back and listen attentively, fully hearing what another person is saying not just in their words, but in what lies behind the words that is coming from their heart?  So often, we quickly take offense and jump into a stance of defense, instead of waiting to feel and take in the complete picture that is being presented to us, thereby really missing the true message.

So what does it take to become a good listener? It does require recognizing and practicing some key points.

This is apparent in a business setting and even more crucial when it comes to communication between family members and to add insight to healthcare personnel when dealing with eldercare issues.

When emotions are high, more awareness of the heart’s voice behind the words is needed.

Emotional validation is a basic human need. We craze for it more that we realize. When we are frustrated, tired, disappointed or hurt, we tend to want to discuss our feelings with another person so that we feel some relief.

What we hope for through this venting is that the listener of our woes will “get” what is going on for us and validate our feelings by conveying that understanding with an empathetic look or even extend a wee bit of sympathy to us.

It is cathartic and helps us to move forward in a more equalized way and thereby releasing some of our angst.

Psychologist Guy Winch offers up five steps that can accompany active listening to provide authentic emotional validation, especially to your loved ones:

1. Let the person complete their narrative so you have all the facts.

2. Convey you get what happened to them from their perspective (whether you agree with that perspective or not and even if their perspective is obviously skewed.)

3. Convey you understand how they felt as a result of what happened (from their perspective).

4. Convey that their feelings are completely reasonable (which they are, given their perspective).

5. Convey empathy or sympathy (not pity!) for their emotional reactions.

One of author Stephen Covey’s tenets described in the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is to “seek first to understand and then be understood.”

My husband and I put these words in our marriage vows. It is not easy to do when stress is in play. You must take one giant leap backwards, breathe and use every ounce of your intention to maintain harmony through discord.

Using the art of listening in collaborative family caregiving will give you a Masters in Relationships that will benefit you in many ways. A change of attitude is not an easy feat to accomplish.

Bernard Ferrari, in his McKinsey Quarterly article, writes: “Good listeners seek to understand—and challenge—the assumptions that lie below the surface of every conversation.”

So remember, next time you are trying to firmly get your point across, try listening instead. Because, if you always take the position that you know what’s best, you may very well miss an opportunity to discover something better.

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