Learning to Listen

The more I listen, the more I realize that learning to listen is a lifetime job. At first, you listen to the manifest content of what someone is saying. What is the story? What is the sequence? What happened in the end? Later, you begin to listen to how the person telling the story thinks and feels about the story. Was it what the teller wanted to happen? Was it traumatic? Sad? Satisfying? Did the teller feel good about it?

After a while, you listen for the themes in the story. Does the storyteller see the world as friendly or adversarial? Is it a story featuring the teller as a hero or a victim? Is it a story of repeated losses or of overcoming old habits? Does it contain parts that are difficult to talk about or is it mostly a story for the purpose of helping the teller feel better?

At the next layer, you listen for why the person is telling you that story at that moment. Is the teller trying to help you feel sympathetic? Is the teller showing you he or she is competent and powerful? Is it a bid for attention or a bid for input? Is it a bid for closeness or a bid for control? Does the teller want you to take responsibility for telling him or her what to do in a situation? What self experience is that person constructing by telling you this thing at this moment? What reflection is he or she seeking from you?

And after a while, you begin to feel your way into what it would be like to be that person, the person telling you something. What would it be like to look out of those eyes? To inhabit that body? To manage that work and those relationships? You begin to put down your rush to judgement, your own need to be intelligent or insightful, and you slow down your own experience to make space to see what it would be like to manage your life if you were the person telling the story. At that moment, the teller is opening the door to an inner universe, and you are slowly stepping through the door and being with. Being with the person who wants to connect with you by telling you something. This being with has a quiet power that releases a constructive energy. And then something good happens.  And there is no telling what that something is going to be.

About norasblog

I am a psychotherapist with a private practice in downtown Chicago.
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