THE BLOG

Compassionate Listening

07/11/2016 11:55am ET | Updated July 11, 2017
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"Do your best to practice compassionate listening. Do not listen for the sole purpose of judging, criticizing or analyzing. Listen only to help the other person express himself and find some relief from suffering." -- Thich Nhat Hanh

Compassion is the human quality of understanding the suffering of others and wanting to alleviate it. In order to understand a person's suffering, it is important to take the time to listen to what others are going through. Listening is an accepting and nonjudgmental invitation for others to be themselves, without any worry about disapproval. This is an extraordinary gift to offer another person and opens the door to a deep mutual exploration of feelings. By simply listening to the woes of another, we can actually reduce the amount of time the person feels sad. For that person, the mere act of expressing what is inside can be healing. After feelings are released, then plans can be made for how to improve the situation.

Listening requires emotional strength, patience, openness and a real desire to understand. Just like any other skill, it requires practice over time. Here are some tactics you can use during a face-to-face conversation.

• Participate. Look at the person directly and put aside distractive thoughts and also watch his or her body language.

• Show interest. When the other person speaks, focus on what he/she is saying. Try not to let your mind jump ahead to figure out a replying recommendation. Check to make sure your posture and body language is open and inviting and that your arms are not crossed in front of you or that your feet are pointing away from the person.

• Make eye contact. Making eye contact during a conversation indicates to the other person that you are listening with undivided attention. However, do blink and look away periodically.

• Defer judgment. Active listening is a model for respect and understanding. Try not to interrupt with suggestions or counter arguments.

In addition, a useful listening aid is your own breath. Take several small calming breaths whenever you find yourself emotionally shutting down or losing focus on what is being said. Once you have calmed down, you listen objectively for the emotional narrative beneath the words, the feeling that is telling you more about the content than the words alone.