May 2014
Hello and Happy Spring.

This issue of Flourish is all about the most essential element of good communication: listening. The feature article makes the important distinction between just hearing someone else talk and truly listening to another person. This article reviews the key characteristics of a truly good listener. After you read the article be sure to take the Quiz to discover which skills you have already mastered and whether there might be some areas in which you can improve.

While you are enjoying the warmer days ahead, try to practice your renewed listening skills with those around you. You may be pleasantly surprised at the reactions you get and the changes you see.

Best wishes to each of you,

Barbara
The Rewards of Really Listening

Two close friends, Joanna and Cyndi, are sitting at a coffee shop. Joanna has just gone through a divorce and is relaying the details to her friend. A casual observer might think Cyndi is listening. But let's take a look at the thoughts running through Cyndi's head: "I hope this never happens to me. What would we do about the kids? I could never make it on just my salary. How is Joanna going to handle the dating scene after all this time?"

Cyndi believes she's being a good listener. After all, she's not interrupting or fidgeting, is she? However Cyndi is merely hearing her friend; like so many of us, she's not truly listening.

As toddlers, we learn to speak and to hear what others are saying. As we grow up, we learn to read and write, along with many other useful skills. But many of us never learn one of the most vital skills of all -- how to really listen.

To really listen takes our whole attention and focus. However you don't have to be a trained therapist to be a good listener. Real listening can be learned. Research and books such as The Lost Art of Listening: How Learning to Listen Can Improve Relationships, by Michael Nichols, and Mortimer Adler's How to Speak, How to Listen agree on these key points about listening:

Anyone can learn to be a good listener. While some might be better at this skill than others, everyone can learn the basic skills. Both men and women can be good listeners, and some of the best listeners are young children because they are willing to drop everything and focus intently on someone (if you catch them at the right time).

Listening is active. Many of us think of listening as a passive act, just showing up. But real listening requires paying attention, not just to words, but body language and sometimes to what is not being said. It also means responding, not in words but with our facial expressions, head nods and exclamations ("uh huh") that show we are present.

Listening requires turning off the noise inside your head. To listen, we have to set aside our ideas, judgments and opinions... "That was a mistake from the start" or "I know exactly how she should handle this." It means ignoring the urge to advise and give suggestions (unless asked) and not trying to "fix" the problem or change the other person. Honestly, most people don't want advice, solutions, or our own stories -- they just want to be heard.

Listening means no defenses. Sometimes when we listen we hear things we don't want to hear. Perhaps your boss isn't pleased with your last project or your spouse is upset with you. When someone tells us something we don't want to hear, our instinct is to shut down or defend ourselves. True listening requires us to resist those impulses. By remaining quiet and listening to the other person's thoughts and feelings we keep communication open. In this way we can protect our relationships and move toward solutions.

Listening is unselfish. Listening takes time. Time is our most precious commodity and it requires generosity to give it. However, as with most gifts given freely, the returns can be priceless.

The rewards of listening include: happier marriages and families, better communication at work, fewer misunderstandings between friends, calmer and less stressful lives. And best of all, when you are a good listener, people tend to want to listen to you in return.

So give it a try, and see what happens.

Author's content used with permission, © Claire Communications
Are You a Good Listener?

Listening is an action word. Find out how good a listener you are by answering the following questions.

1. Listening means paying attention. When I listen to someone, I focus my attention on the speaker. I look directly at him or her and concentrate on hearing what that person is saying.
__ Always
__ Most of the time
__ Sometimes
__ Never

2. Listening means accepting what the other person says. When I listen to someone, I withhold judgment and accept what he or she is saying "as is." I acknowledge what the person is saying without labeling it right or wrong, good or bad, true or false.
__ Always
__ Most of the time
__ Sometimes
__ Never

3. Listening means being interested in what the other person says. When I listen to someone, I invite the speaker to give his or her opinion, say what's on his or her mind, or say how he or she feels about the topic or issue.
__ Always
__ Most of the time
__ Sometimes
__ Never

4. Listening means confirming and clarifying what I believe I heard. When I listen to someone, I ask specific questions such as "I think I understand what you said, but will you elaborate on...?" or "When you say..., do you mean...?"
__ Always
__ Most of the time
__ Sometimes
__ Never

5. Listening means being empathetic. When I listen to someone, I try to put myself in the other person's shoes and appreciate what he or she might be going through.
__ Always
__ Most of the time
__ Sometimes
__ Never

6. Listening means being involved. When I listen to someone, I respond actively by nodding, making interjections and asking questions such as "How do you feel about that?"
__ Always
__ Most of the time
__ Sometimes
__ Never

7. Listening means letting go of control. When I listen to someone, I don't always jump right in with a solution or have to say the "right" thing.
__ Always
__ Most of the time
__ Sometimes
__ Never

8. Listening means not judging the speaker. When I listen to someone, I really try to not get hung up on the delivery, even if it's awkward or I find his or her voice irritating.
__ Always
__ Most of the time
__ Sometimes
__ Never

9. Listening means withholding any rebuttal until the speaker is finished. When I listen to someone, I listen to the entire message before I mentally begin my rebuttal or defense. Then, I wait a beat or two before I begin speaking to make sure I've let the speaker finish, and I am respectful in my response.
__ Always
__ Most of the time
__ Sometimes
__ Never

10. Listening means paying attention to the whole message. When I listen to someone, I take in their non-verbal messages, too -- facial expressions, gestures, eyes, tone of voice, and posture because I understand these can provide additional important information.
__ Always
__ Most of the time
__ Sometimes
__ Never

11. Listening means being present. Sometimes I'm unable to give my full attention to someone. When this is the case, I let the person know by saying something like, "Now is not a good time for me to talk about this, can we discuss it later?" then agree to a specific time to have the discussion.
__ Always
__ Most of the time
__ Sometimes
__ Never

Letting someone know he or she has really been heard is one of the most unselfish and loving things we can do for each other. If you are having difficulty listening or being heard in your relationship, I believe I can help.

Author's content used with permission, © Claire Communications
Barbara is a psychotherapist with over 20 years of experience helping individuals and couples to achieve happier, more fulfilling lives. She assists clients to better understand themselves, improve their relationships and develop more effective responses to life's problems. Barbara works with adults confronting all types of challenges but is especially skilled at helping survivors of trauma.

Barbara always welcomes the opportunity to work with new clients.
Barbara Hill, LCSW-C
6236 Montrose Road
Rockville, MD 20852
Phone: (301) 340-3050
Website: barbarahill.co
Email: your_therapist1@yahoo.com
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