1415 Oakland Blvd., Suite 100 | Walnut Creek, CA 94596

~ The ART of Listening ~



Many of us spend substantial hours each week witnessing our friends’ and family members’ work victories, personal vacations, childrens’ important events, adorable pet photos, weddings…on SOCIAL MEDIA. In addition, we sometimes witness peoples’ challenges like accidents and health issues.

Even though social media relationships can have positive effects on us, numerous studies have linked social networking to anxiety, depression, and increased social isolation. Have you ever felt envious/jealous of the “perfect” posts you see that trigger personal comparisons (aka: “comparison-itis”) and feelings of self-doubt and insecurity?

For example:
“I’m not as young looking (or as thin) as my same-aged friend”
“my kids aren’t as successful as my friend’s kids”
“I don’t have the wealth my friend has”
“My marriage isn’t as happy as ______’s”

Can you relate?

It’s no surprise that our frantically-paced days leave many of us with frazzled nerves and a yearning to be REALLY SEEN, heard, and understood by another human being (beyond getting “likes” on social media). To counter feelings of isolation, shouldn’t we be seeking tools that will help build bridges of emotional connection?

In my private practice I receive numerous opportunities to slow down, be present, listen to my clients, and hear about the various stressors in their lives. The intense demands of life have many people feeling as though they’re in a hamster wheel running as fast as they can… but getting nowhere fast.

Larry Dossey, M.D., the author of Space, Time & Medicine, uses the term “hurry sickness” to describe people’s over-concern for schedules, deadlines, and the ongoing ticking of the clock. This intense focus on external time can cause internal pressure to build. Dossey cites hurry sickness in the rise of stress-related problems, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, and depression.

For this reason, I absolutely LOVE to teach Assertive Communication Skills. Listening compassionately is one of the important aspects that I focus on when teaching assertiveness. This is a wonderful tool to share because, with today’s frantic hustle-and-bustle, receiving someone’s undivided attention is a precious GIFT.

When I was a kid, although I always had plenty to eat, I remember feeling STARVED FOR POSITIVE ATTENTION and EMOTIONAL CONNECTION. If my dad wasn’t at work, then he sat at home reading a newspaper. The news of the day was wrapped around him as if it were a shield or protective fortress.

As a little girl, I would stand in front of this fortress and ask him something like, “Daddy, will you draw me a cat?” Or, “Can we play checkers later?”

Keep in mind that I would usually have to ask a question several times before he would slowly lower his drawbridge, even for a moment. On a day he felt generous, he would finally peer over the wall with furrowed eyebrows and an annoyed look. Then he’d say something like, “What do you want now?”

Or maybe it was, “Who goes there?”

When I was grown, my father admitted to me how incredibly UNCOMFORTABLE and ALONE he had always felt, even in the presence of others. I listened as he allowed me one short GLIMPSE behind his protective fortress.

For me, that was our most honest conversation.

To this day, I am grateful for that momentary connection to my unarmored father. Hopefully, now that Dad is on the other side, he experiences connectedness in some form.

So the next time you have an opportunity to connect deeply with someone, I hope you’ll remember my story and turn off the TV, your cell phone, the computer—and put down the newspaper, your ipad, or your book.

Gift the person with your glorious, undivided attention.
When you seek to deeply understand someone, you’ll be practicing the ART of listening.

The ART of listening, in various communication training methods, is often called Active Listening. Active Listening is a focused way of receiving information from another. It is a three-step process that truly is active.

By contrast, passive listening or robotically, “Uh-huhing…” as a form of listening contains little action and the communication is basically stuck on autopilot. Let’s release the autopilot switch and talk about mindfully connecting.


The 3 steps of Active Listening are Mirroring, Validation, and Empathy. One of the keys to success here is to pull back your energy from self-disclosing, so you can be fully present for the person you are connecting with. In preparation, if you consciously deepen your breath into your belly it will help you get grounded. Then you can receive information from the other person more effectively.

When I teach Active Listening to clients I use a prop to assist in the training. This prop is a basketball and I’ve written notes on its surface. Think of it as a big, round “cheat sheet.” When I introduce the client to this basketball I often quip that,:

“Communication was
never meant to be a competitive sport!”

For example, in Native American traditions, the indigenous people often meet in a circle and pass a talking stick around to designate whose turn it is to speak. Whoever is holding the talking stick, cannot be interrupted.

~ That is the rule of respect ~

So picture the basketball (or a talking stick if you prefer), with the following prompts for the Active Listener carved onto its surface:

  1. Mirroring: After the person you are listening to is finished sharing, reflect back what you have heard him or her say. This will let the person know you are fully present and listening. Paraphrase the person’s content in your own language.
    You might begin with:
    It sounds like…, I’m sensing that…, I hear that…, I see that…
  2. Validation: This requires listening for the feeling that is oftentimes underneath the content of his or her sharing. Mindfully hold back judgment or criticism during this step and simply validate the person’s emotions.
    You might validate by saying:
    I can see how…, It makes sense that…, I can understand why…
  3. Empathy: Consider what it would be like to walk in the moccasins of the other person. Be aware of your bodily reactions to what is being shared. This will give you more information and empathy toward what he or she has been through.
    You might empathize by saying:
    Hearing you share about this incident gives me chills…; I feel for what you’re going through right now…; My heart goes out to you and your family

Active Listening is an opportunity for you to do your best to see, hear, and understand the person you are connecting with. Try to let go of as many preconceived ideas and judgments about this person as you possibly can.

Bless them with your FULL attention and don’t interrupt while they are sharing.

And keep in mind, with the fast-paced nature of many conversations, it may take some practice to contain your responses and not eagerly want to grab the talking stick!

Attentively listening to the people in your personal and professional life
can turn monotone relationships into COLOR-FULL EXPERIENCES.

As a result, you’ll be building vibrant bridges of emotional connectedness. And in case you haven’t heard, connectedness has been clinically shown to be a stress reducer—which is great for your health and well-being!

So why settle for grays
can be yours…
for the listening?

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