Tuesday, October 11, 2011


I know some of my posts are really long and drawn out, which might make for boring reading. It’s difficult because so much goes on and I am not articulate enough sometimes to clearly state my thoughts or I just haven’t had enough time removed from the topic to reflect enough.

For this posting I wanted to share just one thing I learned at Mission Quest, a St. Labre-wide training on Monday. We had a speaker come in to talk about 2 of the Labre values, respect and excellence, and he caused me to think about a listening in a different way. I will not underestimate the reader enough to think that you haven’t already heard of ‘emphatic listening’ but there is a chance you are like me and you might find this classification of listening novel and thought-provoking.

I have learned about the difference between passive listening (not talking while others talk) and active listening (verbal and non-verbal clues that show you understand the speaker). Mission Quest added a new ‘level’ of listening to my model: emphatic listening, “giving of verbal and non-verbal messages that suggest you understand how the speaker feels.” I think I had tried to do this in the past, though I never classified it as such. I always just thought of myself as listening and trying to relate. According to our handout, emphatic listening includes the following actions: verifying feelings-not just facts, being positive and supportive about how they feel, avoiding judgment and critical feedback, providing empathic feedback that suggests similar feelings, hypothesizing around the idea that you would feel similarly, building rapport and common ground around their feelings, and continuing to listen until they feel heard.

I have picked a few tips from examples of good listeners in my own life that I think fall under emphatic listening. Two examples: one of my good friends who is also a mentor in my life will often nod or verbally cue that he is listening to what someone is saying to him, showing that he thinks it may be interesting or important. I regard this person I quite an authority on listening because I have found that he is often able to extract the feelings, emotion or underlying message when I cannot process what I am trying to personally express.

Another tip I picked up on at JVC NW orientation is called the “Jedi Mind Trick.” It was suggested as a method of handling interpersonal conflict in our communities. It looks like this: If someone is talking to you, an effective way of showing them that you are listening to what they are saying and also hearing it (or understanding it), you repeat back to them what they say. For example, if one of my housemates tells me my habit of leaving moldy leftovers in the fridge is disturbing and they would like me to stop, then I repeat back to them, “What I hear you saying is that I leave leftovers in the fridge to mold and it disturbs you.” Just like that. Very simple and yet it communicates that you are indeed listening to what they are telling you.

I think these are both very good listening skills that really work. You should try them! The JVC tip comes from a husband who says it apparently works very well when his wife gets upset.

I do not however, completely agree with the entire list of exemplary emphatic listening offered above. I think sometimes it is not appropriate to suggest we can understand how someone feels or that we feel the same way. In fact, I think that in some situations we may never be able to relate to someone’s personal experiences. For example, there are some ways I will never be able to empathize with a woman or with a Native American. It is a simple matter of fact that we face different realities. This does not mean that I cannot listen, I can certainly do that. But, in order to listen more completely and unhindered by a misguided attempt to empathize, I should just hear what they have to say.

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