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How Listening Without Giving Advice is Good For Your Relationships

Two women talkingMAUDE: I attend two regular Zoom groups where in the beginning of the session the moderator gives a short recap of the rules for the discussion. Basically, we are reminded that we are just listening, not debating, not fixing, not solving, just listening.

Just listening, but what does that actually mean? We’ve written a number of times about active listening, where you mirror back to the person what you heard them say. This helps you listen instead of being busy preparing what you are going to say as soon as they finish speaking. It shows that you have been listening and gives feedback to the person about what you heard.

These are all important and add greatly to your interactions with others. In terms of listening, there is a further step that you can take to deepen your one-on-one relationships.

Much of this has to do with being present and offering your full attention and acceptance to the other person. When someone is sharing with you, it is a great gift to offer them your presence. We all crave that sense of connection and recognition. When you are truly with another, fully present, you are verifying their importance to you and letting them know you see them and hear them.

In order to offer this form of presence, you must leave yourself out of the interaction in every way except as the listener. Listening that deepens connection and communication occurs when you are only bearing witness, you are there to hear what the other is sharing. We all tend (too often) to insert ourselves; our thoughts, our opinions, our suggestions, our solutions.

There are many ways this happens. You mean well and wish to offer help or advice to the other person. You want to fix them or the situation being described. You want to change their feelings to those that you think would be more positive for them. But is that really what they need or are looking for? Is that the kind of response that will most support the person?

Culturally, we have been taught certain responses to what people share; often, men have been raised to feel they are supposed to fix and repair things (including people’s problems) and women to take care of wounds and hurts and make them better.

And yet that is often not what is being sought. How do we know what someone is looking for? One way is to ask. “Do you want me to help you solve this, or cheer you up, or do you just want me to hear what you are saying?” When you ask, it also helps the person to clarify what they want.

Regardless of the situation, we all want to feel heard. There is an almost magical quality of healing associated with the sense of being heard. When you are being listened to without the other person’s thoughts and ideas being injected into your story, it can be sensed quite strongly. It is soothing and brings with it a sense of calm and peace. It also gives you the opportunity to hear yourself speaking out loud rather than just having it in your head. This often supplies new insights into your own feelings.

If you want to deepen your relationships, try listening without inserting yourself, your feelings or your solutions, and be sure to leave your judgments at home.

PHIL: In my first marriage, my wife would complain that I was offering solutions to our problems instead of just hearing her. I didn’t get it; why wouldn’t she want a suggestion that might improve the situation?

I think this behavior is particularly pronounced in men. We are used to working in the practical world and seeking ways to manage, repair and improve it, and so assume that the same approach applies in the emotional world, too.

I’ve since come to understand that this is not the case. Everybody lives in both the emotional and the practical worlds at once.

When someone describes a problem, we might try to help them by offering advice, cheering them up, or telling them that they could see things differently by reframing the situation.

Sometimes help is welcomed; people in a funk may appreciate the hand up, or you may suggest something they hadn’t thought of. Sometimes it is hard to hear. And sometimes it is received as a denial of their reality. You’re canceling out how it is for them by injecting your voice, and sometimes this is distracting because they are processing the situation, and when there is another voice in the room, there is that much less chance that they will be able to hear themselves. At the very least, wait until their intensity subsides before responding.

You can’t always tell what the other person wants, so when in doubt, ask them if they want suggestions or just to be heard.

Listening in this way is similar to what we’ve said about fully hearing your partner when you are both making decisions and resolving issues. Just listen and give the other person your full attention without interrupting or planning a response.

Listening like this does more than just not interfering with their emotional position. I’m sure you can tell the difference between when someone is paying attention to you and when they’re distracted by the TV, the menu, or the people at the next table. When you pay full attention to someone talking about their problem, they feel heard, seen and recognized, and this has a healing quality all on its own because it reminds them that we are all connected.

We’ve written extensively about the importance of total acceptance, of giving your partner the freedom over what they do and say. Listening to someone’s problems without trying to fix them is practicing full acceptance in their emotional world as well as their practical world.

Photo credit: Maude Mayes

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Deep Trauma Healing: Tending the Ground for Awakened Living

We highly recommend the work done by Dr. Gail Brenner. She is running a 3-part online retreat. She writes:

"You are most welcome to join the upcoming retreat on November 3, 4, and 5, Deep Trauma Healing: Tending the Ground for Awakened Living sponsored by Open Circle Center. Please click here for details and to register. And I'm holding a free information session about the retreat on Tuesday, November 1. Click here to register. I'd love to see you!"

Successful Relationship Reading Corner


Books on shelfThis week, we talked about how listening without giving advice is good for your relationships. Here are a variety of articles on how to improve your listening skills.

How to Be a Better Listener in Your Relationship "The foundation of successful communication is being able to truly listen to each other, without “constructing a counter argument in your head,” says Michael Batshaw, LCSW, a licensed clinical social worker and relationship expert. In other words, the first step to being a better listener to your partner is to actually listen to learn from them, not to respond to them."

7 Ways to Improve Communication in Relationships "We love connecting with other people because it makes us happy—good communication is the key when it comes to positive social interaction. But what does a healthy conversation look like? How can you avoid over-communicating? And how can you improve communication in a romantic relationship? Read on for a summary of some important models and theories in the field of communication."

What Is Active Listening? "Active listening is a communication skill that involves going beyond simply hearing the words that another person speaks but also seeking to understand the meaning and intent behind them. It requires being an active participant in the communication process. In communication, active listening is important because it keeps you engaged with your conversation partner in a positive way. It also makes the other person feel heard and valued. This skill is the foundation of a successful conversation in any setting—whether at work, at home, or in social situations."

Spreading peace one relationship at a time
Phil and Maude
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