Are You Listening?

“I should have listened to her. Beverly was trying to tell me how unhappy she was but I wouldn’t hear her. Now she is gone, and I miss her so much,” Allen said, as his body shook with sobs of grief. Allen felt devastated since his wife left him three months ago. He was depressed and losing weight-he had no appetite.

“I’m afraid I’m going to lose my job because I can’t concentrate. Getting up in the morning is so difficult. Nothing matters anymore,” Allen expressed with despondence. Then he put his head in his hands as he cried some more.

Suddenly he lifted his head up as he yelled out, “Why didn’t I listen? I was so stupid! I pride myself on being Allen, the intelligent executive. Allen, the one everyone can rely on to solve problems and to help the company be successful. The truth is that I’m Allen, the big failure. I couldn’t make my own marriage succeed. I lost the only woman I have ever loved. I hate myself. I feel so hopeless.”

Francine, another client whose marriage also broke up, said with tears in her eyes, “Why didn’t I listen to Ron? He tried to talk to me. He wanted to tell me what was bothering him but I wouldn’t take the time to hear him. I made the excuses that I was too busy with dinner, or the children, or had a PTA meeting to go to. What a fool I was. Ron has left me for another woman. I feel so hurt and so angry at myself.”

Clyde and Roberta were clients who also learned the hard way about the danger of not listening. They came to see me because their teenage daughter, Lisa, tried to commit suicide. She was still in the hospital recovering from an overdose of drugs. Their doctor had recommended that they see a counselor.

The upset parents shuddered as they related their story to me, and admitted that Lisa had tried to tell them numerous times how unhappy she was. Both Clyde and Roberta unfortunately were too busy working, doing chores, or attending charitable organizational meetings, to take the time to heed her warnings. They had erroneously made the decision that Lisa was just going through normal teenage growing up problems and thought that they would pass. Clyde and Roberta had learned a very important lesson about listening. They were going to be sure to pay attention to what Lisa and their other children were telling them.

These case studies are just examples of the many clients who did not know how to listen. I shared with them the following helpful hints so that they could really hear what others are telling them.

1. Be clear that you are okay no matter what people say so that you can be objective.

2. Understand that people are responsible (and not you) for how they think and feel.

3.Make an agreement with the other person as to the specific time you will listen to them when you will be rested and alert.

4. Find a quiet place where you will not be distracted.

5. Make sure that you will not be interrupted by phone calls, radio, or television programs.

6. Tell them that you really want to hear them, and that you appreciate their sharing with you.

7. Clear your mind, and be totally present and objective as you listen to what they are trying to tell you.

8. Let them know that you are listening by making eye contact, nodding your head, saying, “Uh huh,” or “I hear you.”

9. Avoid thinking about what you want to answer, judging, trying to rescue them, or solve their problems.

10. To make sure that you heard them, tell them in your own words, “I heard you say. . . .”

11. If you need clarity, ask them for more information by saying, “What do you mean?” or “How do you feel?” (Avoid “Why” questions because that word indicates that they have to justify themselves.)

12. Listen to their body language so that you can hear their truth. For example, if their hands are making a fist, they are probably feeling angry even if they deny it.

13. Ask them, “How can I help you?” or “What would you like from me right now?”

14. Reassure them that their feelings are valid even if they seem irrational.

15. Express your compassion and let them know if you feel the same way sometimes.

16. If there are problems to be resolved, ask them if they want you to help them find win-win solutions.

17. Thank them for trusting you and for being willing to share their thoughts and feelings.

18. Schedule another time when you can be there for them.

If you take the time to listen to the people in your life, you can avoid many hardships, and you will be greatly rewarded. Enjoy healthy relationships by hearing others, and of course, by asking others to listen to you. Be able to say yes to the question, “Are you listening?”