Listening closely to a person is a subtle art. Much of what is going on in the person is veiled from the listener. The listener goes astray, and needs to be set back on the path.
Here are four kinds of response which are often helpful, when you are listening to a person (they are based on a clear model developed by my friend, Kathy McGuire):
Saying what you heard
You say back the gist of what the person just said. You say it back bit by bit, one little piece at a time. You are following along very closely beside the person.
Why would anybody say back what another person says? You are giving the person a chance to tell you, when you are not following. Often we feel sure we are right there, and find we are not.
So you are simply checking to see if what you heard is what was meant. That's all. You try to say it exactly the way the person means it and feels it.
You say back:
- the point being made,
- any intention to act,
- any imagery in the words, and especially,
- the feeling words.
Usually, your response is partly OK. The person will correct the part that was not OK. You mostly get several chances. Soon the person will sigh (or laugh or cry), saying "Yes, that's it. Exactly."
What is meant is not static – it moves forward in that moment of opening, relief or surprise. Nor is the person static, who just now lived forward a little, is a little less torn and fractured.
Asking for more
When what is said is vague, or you weren't listening, or didn't follow, you can ask for more. Say back whatever you did get. Ask for the person's help to understand more fully.
Slowing things down
One person may already be taking time to sense into feelings, and need no help to do so.
Another person may pause in response to what you say back, sensing how close it comes to the intended meaning. People slow down with you, as you feel your way into their meaning.
Sometimes you may need to be direct – "I wonder how this whole thing feels to you right now."
Saying what you are feeling yourself
You will be feeling your own sense of what is going on for the person. You might share this, if somebody is stuck, or feels out of touch, or seems to be getting bogged down.
Once in a while, it may help to say what is going on for you, in response to what you are hearing.
Next: Quiet assertiveness