Listening to others is something we may pride ourselves in doing effectively. In listening to the content of another person’s speech we can decipher their message(s) as well as their conscious appraisal of their mental phenomena during that moment in time. Nonetheless, the art of listening is an ever-evolving skill that we all can improve upon and is a frequent struggle in interpersonal situations.
Listening effectively not only involves a conscious understanding of another person’s verbal expressed language, but it also involves listening to other important cues. Body language, emotional tones, situational contexts, and our own feelings are all crucial features while listening “with the third ear” (Reik, 1948). Listening in this regard involves a significant amount of reflective effort in-the-moment with another person that, when don’t effectively, results in a larger understanding of his/her mental states. It can be useful to reflect and ask oneself if there is hidden emotion within a person’s speech, or if their shifting of their folded arms indicates a “closed off” message. Likewise, it can powerful to reflect on if our feelings when speaking with another are actually originating in that other person, yet they do not have the words to dictate their feelings so they find a way to cast them into us. A common misconception about listening to another person is observed when friends or partners express grievances to those in their social circle. Instead of attending to the emotions, meanings, and global context of the speech relayed from one person to the other, most persons go into “fixer-mode” and offer solutions or opinions, thus drowning out what is aching to be heard. For example, during romantic hardships, partners may consult their respective friend groups to achieve support. It is common for such friend groups to offer, in well-intentioned spirit, advice or “look on the bright side” remarks that do not reach the empty or despairing feelings others endure during such times.
Effective ways to listen involve suspending any solutions or opinions and learning to express curiosity about a person’s mental state when they are speaking. Ask questions about emotional reactions without determining if the reactions are realistic or pragmatic. Instead of asking about “next steps,” express a desire to see someone through a concern no matter how long it takes. In doing this, we can allow those around us to revive a sense of resiliency and agency they can actively implement in their lives. Other impactful listening tools involve simple reflections of what others state. Listening to another person reflect back what we have said in their own voice allows persons to hear their own thoughts and decipher for themselves whether they are speaking truthfully to their experience. Simultaneously, this relays to the other person that the content of their speech is registered by another person, thus prompting a sense of being psychologically nearby another.
If you or a loved one need help truly listening to one another, or yourself, please consider consulting with the clinicians at Town Center Psychology. You are not alone!
Reik, T. (1948). Listening with the third ear: The third ear. Farrar, Straus and Giroux.