return to principle
SO NOW YOU KNOW: If you
want to cultivate closeness, you need to focus on feelings. Once
you learn this, the most natural first impulse is to share your
feelings. But you would do better to first try to help
them share their feelings. Think listen first. Try to
discover their feelings as your first action.
Listening well means more than just keeping
your mouth shut. Imagine yourself a spy trying to wheedle information
out of someone, except in this case you're trying to get people
to reveal feelings rather than the enemy's secret plans. Imagine
yourself doing that and you realize how active listening is.
Depending on how you do it, the way you
listen can make people open up to you, or it can make them shut
down. You can make them feel safe, or you can make them feel
wrong. Listening is very powerful. Click here to discover a good way to improve
your ability to listen.
For example, Vic wanted to cultivate closeness
with his teenage son, Tony. Over dinner one night, Vic said,
"So what's going on at school these days?"
"Not much," Tony said casually,
"I don't really like most of my classes. Except maybe P.E.
The coach is really cool. He lets us do pretty much whatever
Right here, Vic had the opportunity to
help Tony open up. Or the opportunity to teach and control and
be right. Vic, like most parents, has a natural intention to
mold his child, to improve him. Fine and dandy. That's part of
his job as a father. But if in this conversation he wants to
cultivate closeness, listening is what's called for.
But no matter how hard you try, you will
occasionally become self-righteous when you're talking to someone.
When it happens, all is not lost. Remind yourself your intention
is to cultivate closeness not convert the world to your opinions,
and admit your mistake openly and apologize.
A key to listening well is asking questions
without a sense of interrogation, but with curiosity and love
and real interest. And good listening is not just going through
the motions of good listening. It is really taking an interest
in the other person and being open to who they are. If you want
to improve your listening, you don't just change your behavior.
Something must change
inside you. You need to think about why you want to know
this person, why you want to cultivate closeness, and why good
listening is such an important thing to do. By thinking about
these things, you will have your mind and heart in the right
place. Then you can genuinely listen.
The following are a few guidelines to help
point the way.
LISTEN WITHOUT JUDGMENT
I was talking to a good friend of mine
the other day and he made the comment that Americans are pushy
and arrogant. I know this is the accepted modern American viewpoint.
But I pointed out that other cultures can be more pushy than
Americans. I deal with a lot of people from all over the world,
and Americans, by and large, are very polite. Anyway, I said,
"For example, Koreans are more pushy than Americans in my
"Watch the racial stereotypes,"
I took offense. I wasn't talking about
race, I was talking about culture. And I don't even judge "pushy"
as necessarily wrong. But that's all in the realm of right
and wrong and opinions and interpretations. What if I was listening
for feelings? What would I hear? How about these:
a) I argued with him first; he might be
getting revenge for feeling caught stereotyping Americans.
b) He wants his kids to be good citizens
and political correctness is therefore important to him.
c) He wants me to succeed with others and
perhaps he was afraid I might offend people if I throw around
These are just guesses, and I could have
asked him about any of them and our conversation would have brought
us closer. But these kinds of questions would only occur to me
if I was listening for feelings.
NO WRONG FEELINGS
Let them feel whatever they feel. That's
a good rule. If someone tells you what he feels, never try to
talk him out of it that would be a fundamental violation
of his right to self-honesty. This is an important principle
for psychological health and personal integrity: Whatever you
feel is what you feel. There are no "wrong" feelings.
As soon as some feelings are off limits, closeness is prevented
because it becomes more difficult to disclose certain feelings
and divulging feelings is the key to closeness.
I'll give you a couple of examples of how
this feels. Let's say you feel guilty because a clerk at a store
earlier in the day gave you too much change. It's not worth getting
in the car and going back to the store to return it. But you
feel bad about it anyway. So you tell someone and he says, "You
shouldn't feel bad about that."
Or let's say you were going to meet a friend
at the theater. You're going to watch a movie together. But he's
late. This is the third time you've done this and all three times
you've missed the beginning of the movie. When he shows up, you
say, "I missed the beginning of the movie again." You're
feeling kind of angry.
He replies, "Now don't get mad."
Can you see how this violates something
important? When you feel an emotion, you feel that emotion. You
cannot not feel an emotion emotions don't work
that way. To try to say you shouldn't feel something you feel
is to say you must not be what you are, think what you're thinking,
believe what you're believing, and perceive the world the way
you're perceiving it. The statement denies everything about you.
Learn more about
the most important elements of good listening.
Listening well requires motivation. It
is not a passive activity. You need persistence and sustained
effort. Really try to be there paying attention and being interested and caring and trying to
get what they're saying. This takes effort. Keep yourself motivated
by reminding yourself how important and how deep
this human need is and what a difference it makes to you
when you are truly heard. And the profound health benefits
you will gain. And what a great gift you are giving to the other.
Keep learning about it: Read Love and
Survival. Read Connect by Edward Hallowell. Listen
to the tape set The Relationship Cure by John Gottman.
Read the book, Self-Help Stuff That Works. Motivation
is especially important when you are changing ingrained habits.
Your motivation needs to be sustained over time. And you
can deliberately increase and sustain your motivation with good
ALONE NO MORE
To listen well, you don't have to be interested
in what she's saying. I mean, you don't have to be interested
in cars if she is talking about cars. You only need to be interested in her.
That expresses itself as interest in her feelings about what
she is saying. She has something important and she is alone with
it. Sharing it with you makes her no longer alone. Let her speak.
Really get it.
"How can I help this person no longer
be alone with this?" That's the motivation to have, rather
than, "What can I get out of this?" or "How can
I seem interested so she'll like me?" or, "I'm not
really interested in cars so I'm bored."
The communication is not really about information.
It's someone sharing something with you to connect with you.
It doesn't even matter if you've heard it before. That's not
the point. It is the revealing of feelings that matters, not
Just being heard is valuable. Just the
fact that someone is there for you when they have no advice
or "real" way to help you, it is still valuable that
In his Autobiography, Bertrand Russell
wrote, "In human relations one should penetrate to the core
of loneliness in each person and speak to that."
A FRIEND INDEED
It can help a friend to listen to him talk
when he's having troubles. But being the listener isn't easy,
and as you know, not everything you say or do to help a person
really helps. Brant Burleson, a researcher at Purdue University,
set up some experiments to find out just what does work, and
what doesn't. What he discovered may surprise you.
You don't have to offer advice. In fact,
you probably shouldn't, according to Burleson's studies.
When someone is unloading his troubles,
most of the things we most naturally want to do to help him will
not help him. For example, it doesn't help much to tell your
friend about similar troubles you've had, or to try to help him
look on the bright side, or to try to change the subject. What
actually helps the listener is surprisingly simple and easy:
Encourage your friend to describe his trouble in great detail.
And make sure you include, as part of that detail, descriptions
of your friend's feelings.
That's it. Most people can pretty much
figure out what they ought to do once they think about it a little
bit, and that's exactly what you're allowing him to do: Think.
By not giving your friend advice or trying
to help him see the silver lining, by not cluttering his mind
with your own similar experiences, and by getting him to describe
his feelings and the problem in detail, you're allowing him to
clarify the situation for himself.
It's easier to think by speaking aloud
than it is to try to think to yourself, especially when you're
upset, but that's true only if your listener is allowing you
to speak freely.
Get your friend to describe his problem
and his feelings in detail. Although it may seem you're hardly
doing anything, you're allowing him to do what he needs most
when times are tough: To confide in a friend.
HOW TO LISTEN
Listening completely is not done with silence.
Yes, while the other is talking, you need to be silent to listen.
But at some point the person will stop. Is there something missing?
Is there something more you want to know? Is there a gap in your
understanding? Ask a question that allows the other person to
make you understand even more about the situation and about their
Ask questions, not in a lawyer-grilling-a-defendant
sort of way, but in a share-yourself-with-me way. Make yourself
understand that it is in both of your best interests if you understand
the person's feelings. And then your sincere desire to understand
will draw the other person out. Your honest wish to know will
bring questions into your mind which you can then ask.
And let her know you understand. The look
on your face isn't enough. Nonverbal communication is not always
clear. You must say you understand, and not just by saying,
"I understand," although that is at least something.
Use the phrase, "It must have been..." to show that
you understand or give the person an opportunity to straighten
you out if you don't understand.
"It must have been frustrating to
have so many things go wrong at once."
"It must have been infuriating to
see me do it again."
There's nothing sacred about the words
"it must have been..." Any words that do the same job
will do: "I'll bet you were..." "You must have
felt..." "Did it seem dangerous?" "That had
to make you mad." You're guessing what she's feeling
but you're guessing out loud, which means that if you guessed
right, she knows her feelings went across the space between you
and you know how she feels. And if your guess is wrong, she can
correct you. She also gets a better idea of how much is getting
across. When a person feel understood, something good happens.
There's a relief or a completion, or something. But whatever
it is, it is good and it is healthy.
Studies have shown that confiding in someone,
especially about troubling things, is much healthier than keeping
it to oneself. You do the person a real, measurable service to
listen and let them know you understand.
Listening is powerful. But it isn't really
natural. It's natural to interrupt. It's natural to talk about
yourself. Every child does this until they are either trained
to do otherwise by adults, or figure out it doesn't work. But
most of us, even as adults, are still not very good at listening.
With practice and intention,
you can become good.
Principle Number Four:
Listen well. Help the other open up to you.