08/28/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Ask Maddisen - How to Listen for the Answers

Dear Maddisen:
I was having dinner out with a few of my girlfriends recently. One of our friends was really upset about something and was telling us about it. But then we all just jumped in and started talking about our own experiences related to what she was saying, like we were all trying to one-up each other. I don't think we helped her at all.

And now I can't stop noticing this kind of thing when I'm with friends. Why is this bothering me? Do you have any advice? Thanks, WG

Dear WG,
Wow, great observation! I love it when our awareness demands our attention like that! I'd be happy to share my insights with you on this topic, which is really about listening.

Getting together with friends to share our lives and support one another is wonderful, and I heartily encourage you to continue doing that. In all fairness to you and your girlfriends, your friend who was distressed that day may have indeed been helped simply by being in your loving and caring company. However, I've also noticed what you've been noticing, WG, and that's how we often don't create a space of listening, but instead, rush to fill the space with our own related stories. Unfortunately, when we do this, the person who is talking and wanting to be heard may miss out on the deeper levels of healing, inner wisdom, and clarity they seek. Perhaps this is what bothers you.

How can we truly listen? It's very simple.

Step 1 -- Listen
With care and respect, listen to the person who is speaking and seeking to be heard. Listen for emotions, tonality, content, and meaning. In other words, what are they experiencing, feeling, expressing, and needing you to hear?

Quietly and without interruption, give this person plenty of space to express what needs to be shared.

If you find your attention going inward to a similar or related experience of your own, silently acknowledge yourself, and then put your attention back on the person who is sharing, and listen! Don't interrupt. If you believe sharing your story may help, put it on the back burner, and put your attention back on the person who is talking, and listen! We'll discuss sharing your story in step 3.

Simply listen, with care and respect.

Step 2 -- Ask questions
If you need clarity on what the person is saying, it's okay to ask questions. This is also referred to as perception checking and is a very good way to ensure that you truly understand what is being said. It also reinforces the trust and increases rapport between you and the person speaking because it shows that you truly care and want to understand.

Unless the person sharing requests it, resist giving advice, even if you're sure you have the answers!

By simply listening and perception checking, you'll allow the person who's sharing to access their own inner wisdom and answers.

Step 3 -- Offer support
If you have followed steps 1 and 2 above, and you sense that the person's sharing is complete, ask if they would like further support and if you can help in any way. If they ask for advice, this might be where you could offer any of your inspired and supportive insights, but again, resist giving too much advice. Instead, you might "mirror" the ideas and answers you heard them discover, and ask them if that sounds accurate. Feel free to generously prize (acknowledge) them.

And voila! You have just practiced true listening.

Listening to our inherent wisdom
Expect to be awed by the clarity and answers that come forward from someone who is being listened to and heard in this heartfelt and full way. Similarly, expect to be awed by the clarity and answers that come forth from within and for your self in the process of listening!

And so, dear WG, I acknowledge you again for trusting your emotional guidance system and for sending me your question. Next time you're with your friends, practice true listening as outlined above, and notice the positive results. You might want to share the approach with them as well.

I love this simple quote from Brenda Ueland: "When we are listened to, it creates us, makes us unfold and expand. Ideas actually begin to grow within us and come to life." May we all allow ourselves to listen and be listened to, so that we may experience all of this...and more.

Your Coach, Maddisen

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Copyright 2009 Maddisen K. Krown