Are you listening?


My client shifted uneasily in her chair, hesitating before telling me what she had learnt since our last session. I had been told that she had a difficult week, full of significant decisions and soul searching. “I’m starting to realise” she said, “that no one really listens to me”.

Listening to another person is really difficult. I mean really, really difficult. As a psychotherapist this is a fundamental that I revisit again and again. I need to check with myself: Am I really listening to what is being said? What assumptions am I making up? What does this person want me to hear?

In thinking about the quality of our listening, in our closest relationships and workplaces, I reflect on 3 blocks to better listening that we may not be aware of:

  1. We do not value listening: Plain and simple we do not think it is important to listen to others. It takes up too much time and we’ve got to much to say / do / achieve. We are so used to putting ourselves first that we deny ourselves the depth of relationship we can have with anyone around us. People who value listening have experienced the difference that being listened to brings. People who do not listen may never have had this experience.
  2. We react: When someone speaks to us, they invite a response. “Hello, how are you?….. I’m hungry….. You forgot to bring the milk home!” When we hear this invitation of course we respond. This is often uncomplicated for many of our daily interactions. Once emotions are involved, however, we can react – giving them the same response we feel we are receiving. Then listening and true communication shuts down. It is important at times like these to slow down and really receive what is being communicated.
  3. We are thinking of what to say next: The human brain is amazing how we can process information on many different levels. While we are listening we can simultaneously formulate a response. We might hear the other person but we are not listening. Note the attention here is on me and not the other person.

The most exciting part about listening is it’s capacity to genuinely transform lives, for ourselves and others around us. After all, we get what we give.