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OPINION: The art of listening – part two
| Monday, February 24, 2014, 10:00 am |

Written by Bruce and Sophia Campbell

The greatest gift we can give to anyone is to listen really deeply to what they have to say.” – Marshall Rosenberg

In an earlier Independent article, we pointed out that most people aren’t very good listeners. Their internal need state compels them to interrupt, defend, give advice or tell stories of their own rather than really hear what the other person is saying.

For Sophia and me, the whole point of communication is to create deeper, more intimate and empathic connections with ourselves and others. And it is very difficult to achieve these closer connections when our automatic mode of response to others is intended either to protect our own ego, in which case we interrupt and defend, or to be helpful, in which case we offer advice or try to fix the problem. These kinds of responses are so ineffective in creating deeper connections that we call them “empathy killers.” When you use them, the other person is likely to sense criticism or judgment and withdraw emotionally.

We would suggest the following steps to create intimate, empathic relationships.

Step One: Identify your intention in listening to the other person

Make your intention truly to hear what the other person has to say. Focus your energy entirely on the other person. Set aside any agenda of your own.

Step Two: Listen without saying anything.

Let the other person talk. Make eye contact. Lean forward in your chair. Send the nonverbal message that “Yes, I am listening and I am sincerely interested in what you have to say.” And remain completely silent. The other person will let you know when he or she is finished, often by looking up or by sighing.

Step 3: Listen and respond with non-committal sounds or words.

Once you have mastered the art of saying nothing, try to convey your connection with the other person by making noncommittal sounds like “Hm,” “Ah” or “Oh,” expressed in an empathic way at appropriate moments.

Step 4: Listen and respond by reflecting back what the other person has said

This is really useful, because if you know that you to have to reflect back what the other person has just said, it makes you concentrate. The key here is to say back, or paraphrase, ONLY what the other person said, without any additions, comments or judgments. When you think you have completed the reflection, ask, “Did I mention everything that was important to you?”

Step 5: Listen and respond by guessing the other person’s feelings

The next step is to listen for the feelings that the other person might be expressing. Feelings can be conveyed by words alone but are more often accompanied by voice intensity or by body language. When you think the time is right, make guesses about these feelings. Be careful not to tell the other person what he or she is feeling – that is another empathy killer. And remember that it is not about you; it doesn’t matter whether your guesses are correct. If you connect with empathy, the other person will tell you what his or her feelings are once you bring up the subject.

Step 6: Listen and respond by guessing the other person’s needs

This is the most advanced step and requires that you have the ability to go beyond the feelings expressed by the other person to identify the needs that produce those feelings. For example, if the person expresses the feeling of anger, you might guess there is a need for safety underlying it. Again, be sure to guess rather than inform.

If you are able to use these steps as you listen to others, you will be amply rewarded. And be kind to yourself. These skills take time to master.

Bruce and Sophia Campbell are both Certified Trainer Candidates in non-violent communication. They teach NVC through the Institute for Continued Learning, a branch of Community Education at DSU. Bruce Campbell can be reached at [email protected]

This article was provided by the World Peace Gardens nonprofit foundation, which holds nonsectarian gatherings every Sunday to promote world peace and sustainable living. Gatherings are at 11:30 a.m. at Green Valley Spa, 1871 W. Canyon View Drive, St. George. Admission is free. For more information, visit or call (435) 703-0077.

The Independent
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