I have previously written 2 parts in this 3 part series. As you and your partner take the skills of listening to understand (Part 1) and seeking to be understood (Part 2), once applied, you will find that there is a new sense of connection. Practicing and committing to improving yourself will show you and your partner that you are committed to being there for one another. After applying these principles one of my clients noted that, “even though we are working harder [at communicating] it feels easier.” You will feel connected; with connections and trust comes an ability to be more vulnerable and free with one another.
Empathetic listening is a skill that builds on and enhances the skills previously shared. This skill is encapsulated in The Listening Cycle (pictured below).
As you can see, this cycle demonstrates common principles used in active listening. Acknowledge means letting your partner know you are listening; it can be a nod, an “uh huh,” a “yeah,” etc as long as it conveys engagement. Summarize is what I called “Reflecting” in the Seek to Understand post. You are repeating back to them what you hear them saying (not word for word, but in summary).
The three words that take listening to a new level, an empathetic listening level, include Attend, Invite, and Ask. Most important to empathetic listening is Attend.
What does it mean to attend? Attending is cueing into your partner (their body language, facial expressions, tone of voice, and emotion) and assuring your partner that you are with them. This can be a smile, a touch on the arm, eye contact, a grimace, etc. In essence, you are asking yourself, what is my partner’s experience as they are talking with me?How can I reassure or validate (how can I be present with them in their experience)? Here is an example: Your partner comes in with fists clenched and with a deep sigh, tells you about how difficult your child has been. What emotion might your partner be feeling? Frustration, anger, sadness, disappointment? You acknowledge their presence by putting down what you are doing and facing them, and attend by patting the seat next to you. You attend to the fact that your partner needs to talk. Your partner continues to vent and you summarize what they say and further attend by saying something like, “That is super discouraging, I know you have been working hard on connecting with Jimmy.” You are acknowledging and validating their emotion.
The next level is Invite. You might invite your partner to tell you more, to be comforted, or to reflect with you. You might ask questions such as, “Is there more that you would like me to know?” “Am I getting it?” “Tell me more about…” This allows your partner to share more of their experience. As they do, you continue to attend (asking yourself: what is this like for them?) and being present with them.
When appropriate you might Ask a few things; “I noticed your sigh as you came in (Attending), I can imagine you are feeling discouraged. What is going on?” When you ask, make sure you are asking open-ended questions (can’t be answered with “yes” or “no”) that invite your partner to share. Attend to what they share.
These principles, when applied, will improve your connection with your partner. I would invite you to share your experiences (success, frustration, improvement, etc) with us as you apply these principles.
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