Listening is a multi-layered skill. Harder than we think to do really well. How often when someone is talking do we jump in, add our bit, or hijack the conversation? It’s a tricky balance to give someone the space to express him or herself without interruption and still manage to be an active participant in the exchange. Risks of uninterrupted listening include glazing over or letting our own silent thoughts take over. We all do it.
Talking therapies and helplines are clear on the purpose of listening to someone in need. The client, or caller, is unconsciously (for most part) seeking validation from the listener. They want their issues, their predicament, their concerns to be heard, before they move on to resolving anything. They know they have been heard once the listener has validated their experiences. How the listener validates varies of course. In many ways it’s about ‘siding’ with the talker, even if the goal is to move the talker on to more constructive resolutions in due course. For example, the talker is frustrated, disappointed, or impatient, the listener validates with, “That must be very frustrating for you”; “How disappointing for you”; “It takes a lot of patience to deal with such things, it’s a wonder how any of us can”. Validation is not a contrived script however, it must be genuine to be effective. We still need to listen carefully to ensure we’re hearing exactly what is being said so we can respond earnestly.
Big ears – all the better to hear clients’ burning issues with – are a must for a work life mentor. Listen up.
© Amanda Yensa Manor 2015
Reference to talking therapies from ‘A brief guide to brief therapy’, Brian Cade, William Hudson O’Hanlon, and to helplines from first hand experience as a helpline volunteer