Empathetic Listening – An Important Recovery Skill
When someone tells you that they need or want to share something with you, honor this by recognizing the sacredness of the interaction. Don’t under estimate the power of empathetic listening; this really is a divine appointment where transformation can occur.
Make the space ready by removing or turning off all distractions, such as TV, radio, cell phones (yours and theirs), things on the stove, the dog, cat or kids. Physically you should be on the same level as the person speaking, whether standing or sitting. Be almost directly facing the speaker, but slightly to one side, keeping your body open and relaxed. Don’t slouch or lounge. Keep your legs uncrossed and lean your body in a little bit towards the speaker. Make eye-contact, and unless they are very disturbed or exceedingly animated, try to subtly match the speaker’s gestures, tone and intensity. Breathe deeply, and tell the other person about to speak that what they have to say is very important to you. See the more detailed lists of what to do and what not to do later in this essay.
Your job will be to listen intently. Be patient and quiet and let the other person talk. And talk. And talk. And not talk; let there be silent spaces. Many people are very, very uncomfortable with silent spaces. That’s ok; you can be uncomfortable, while learning this skill because a lot happens in the silence. Listen intently to what is NOT being said, as it is just as important. To be an empathetic listener, it is important that you don’t take anything the speaker says personally – don’t get defensive or judgmental. You may feel these emotions, but to be an empathetic listener, you must shelve them during this interchange. You should remain unemotional, just quietly nodding or responding with statements like “Hmmmm, I see”, or “Yes, I hear you”, or “Right”, “Uh huh”. These types of introjections are to let the speaker know that you are listening, but not interrupting. Let them talk.
To listen empathetically you will want to recognize, identify and validate the speaker’s thoughts, emotions and feelings. You can do this by asking questions like, “So, what you are thinking is…?”, or, “So, what you are feeling is….” Check your perceptions with the other person, “Did I get that right?” Rephrase what you heard, in your own language, making educated guesses if you are not sure. Always make sure that you heard correctly, and if you are not sure, ask the person to repeat what they have said. You may need to ask the speaker to rephrase if you still aren’t sure about what you hear. Let them know how important it is to you to understand what they are saying.
When it is clear that the person speaking has stopped, ask open- ended questions, like, “Is there more?”, “Do you have other feelings around this?”, “What else were you thinking?” Other helpful sentences may sound something like this, “So, I think I heard you say that….”, “Did I miss anything?” “Is there more?”, “What you have to say is important to me.”, “You don’t have to speak right now.” “That makes sense.” You are now reflecting, summarizing, synthesizing and supporting.
While you are listening, validating and reflecting to the other person, be checking in with yourself to see what is going on for you. Check in with your role and motive in the interaction. What are you thinking about? What’s going on for you emotionally? Physically what is going on for you? Are you feeling influenced or pressured or impulsive? Do you want to manipulate the speaker’s thoughts, feelings or actions? Are you picking up non-verbal cues from the other person and are you being affected by them? Are you being genuine, authentic and honest? Are you choosing respectful language, leaving vulgarities, slang and sarcasm behind? Entertaining these questions will help you to check your responsiveness, and improve your awareness, but the main focus is empathetic listening.
Empathetic listening is just one of many communication tools you will learn as part of your holistic addiction recovery program at Serenity Vista. Not just a beautiful setting. Also a unique blend of holistic approaches integrated in a personal way with individual attention to help you recover, develop important life living skills, and improve the quality of your new life in recovery. A life of freedom, serenity and improved relationships with self, others and higher power. And, effective communication is an integral part of that.
Contact Serenity Vista in beautiful, safe Panama, to learn more about your recovery journey for alcohol treatment or drug addiction rehab and why it makes sense to travel to Panama for your recovery journey.