Insights: Speak Well, Listen More

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Frequently when we have challenges with people, it is more about the feeling of not being listened to, and not being understood.

Rachel Naomi Remen, the author of “Kitchen Table Wisdom,” shares that “The most basic and powerful way to connect to another person is to listen. Just listen. Perhaps the most important thing we ever give each other is our attention.” This is what all healthy relationships require.

In a study by Adler, 2001, he reported that adults spend an average of 70 percent of their time in some form of communication. Of this 45 percent is spent listening, 30 percent speaking, 16 percent reading, and 9 percent writing.

Effective communication means being aware of the verbal and the non-verbal messages, the tone of what is being said, and the emotions that are being presented.  In addition, be aware of what is needed by the other person. Sometimes it means paying attention to what is not being said. Most of us think that listening means just not speaking but there is so much more to it.

Communicating sure can be complicated.

What makes it even more challenging is our use of texting and emails to communicate. These forms of communication often inhibit truly listening and seeing what is honestly being said. I have such an issue with people expressing themselves through text. How often do we hear of someone breaking off a relationship or getting angry via text? This just does not work and it can leave a lot of undone communication, hurt feelings and misperceptions.

When I look at what we need as human beings, it is to be seen, heard and understood. If you look at those three words, they all require listening. It is one of the most valuable skills you can have.

As a therapist, I see that people just want the validation of who they are, to be mirrored in what is important to them and how they feel, that they have a voice that is valued and honored.

Here are some ways to ensure people around you feel listened to:

  1. Pay attention. It sounds basic yet so often people are distracted by their phones, television, and other people. Stop what you are doing, give eye contact, turn your body towards them and you might just be amazed at how this connects the two of you.
  2. Give non-verbal and verbal gestures. Smile, lean in, use touch, and join with their emotions. This will help them feel understood.
  3. Make sure the person feels heard before you give an opinion. Mirror back what you heard the person say first. Once they feel heard they are more likely to hear your thoughts.
  4. When people are emotional there is no point in trying to use logic with them. Share the emotion you hear them expressing and once they have calmed down then you can talk them through what you see happening. For example, you could say “I am seeing how angry you feel at me not cleaning up after myself today because you have so much to do already,” rather than “I am busy too, you don’t always clean up after yourself either.”
  5. When you are not available to listen, let people know and give them a possible time when you can listen.
  6. Remember listening does not mean you are agreeing; listening is just honoring what the person has to say.
  7. Listening also does not mean taking abuse, such as name-calling, bad language or any crossing of your boundaries. You can let people know that it is not okay for you and that you are going to walk away.
  8. Empathize and have compassion for people even when you may not understand their position.
  9. Remember that listening is different from hearing. Hearing is just taking in what they are saying. Listening is joining, connecting and honoring the other person. Take the time to listen to others but also do not forget to give yourself the same kindness and courtesy.
  10. So lastly, just listen with heart, your soul, your mind, and your body, and see where your relationships go.

Dr. Shelly Zavala can be contacted at [email protected] or


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