I am a fixer…I like to help people fix their problems.
A noble goal, but it also has a consequence. I am a bad listener. While listening, my brain is formulating possible solutions and cataloging problems into solution piles. Often, I don’t wait for the person to finish before interrupting with a solution.
I have tried to compensate by using the tool of repeating what I heard and getting clarification that I had it right. Helpful, yes, but it neglects the fundamental importance of listening. Listening allows someone to feel heard on their terms in their sphere. When I repeat the problem back to them, I am actually translating their problem into my language…and in any translation something is lost.
Many times, the solution is to simply to listen.
“Deep listening is the kind of listening that can help relieve the suffering of the other person. You listen with only one purpose, help him or her to empty his heart and suffer less.” Thich Nhat Hanh. (Thich Nhat Hanh is a renown Buddhist monk and prolific author about mindfulness and social activism.)
Deep listening (also called compassionate listening) allows the person to talk through his feelings and form his or her own solutions.
My daughter taught me the importance of deep listening. One time she called me very angry, and I started to offer suggestions and she stopped me. “Mom, I just need to vent. I will figure this out on my own; but I just need to express my frustrations to someone.”
Compassionate listening can be hard, it is difficult to hear someone being emotional without offering assistance. It takes a lot of restraint to listen when I disagree. And when I disagree, it can be difficult to summon empathy and compassion to recognize that they are hurting.
But when I can do it successfully, the person can move toward their own solution with an unburdened heart and a confidence that someone out there understands them. Here are some tips to deep listening.
- Don’t try to fix the problem or give advice unless specifically asked. They need empathy, not advice.
- Be patient, sometimes the speakers don’t understand what their own issue is, and even though it is obvious to you, it is not to them. They need to come to the realization themselves. Silence and patience give them their voice.
- If the problem includes you or someone that you love, don’t get defensive. This can be hard, but these are their feelings even if you don’t agree. When their problems are with me, I respond that I can hear and understand how they feel; without agreeing with it.
Deep listening is one of the hardest tasks for a problem solver; it takes time, it takes patience. But when I can do it, it is more effective than any solution that I can propose.
Angela Rieck, a Caroline County native, received her PhD in Mathematical Psychology from the University of Maryland and worked as a scientist at Bell Labs, and other high-tech companies in New Jersey before retiring as a corporate executive. Angela and her dogs divide their time between St Michaels and Key West Florida. Her daughter lives and works in New York City.