These skills are worth learning. I used them for many years in my work with couples. They may seem easy at first glance, yet my experience is that they need to be practiced with some deep dedication. You will never go wrong when you mirror their words; grasp the meaning; and understand the feelings. Try it. I predict you will like the benefit.
Listen and reflect every word someone says. Do it sincerely and naturally. Prove you heard all their words. Say back to them, “If I heard you correctly, you said_______” Ask, “Did I get it?” If they say yes, ask, “Is there more?” If they say no, ask them to tell you again. Keep reflecting until you know through their words, body posture, eyes, and facial expression, that they believe you have heard them accurately.
Validate the meaning of their words. After listening accurately to a paragraph or two, summarize what you have been hearing, and say to them something like, “I see what you mean” or “I understand what you are telling me”. If you don’t understand or can’t see their meaning, ask them to tell you more about it. This does not mean you are approving or agreeing with what they are saying. It means that you are making the stretch to grasp what they really mean, and you are validating them as a person. Remember, people who are telling you something are bringing it from their depths of experience and it has meaning to them or else they would not be saying it.
Empathize with the feelings behind their words. You show empathy when you say, “Given all that you are telling me, I can imagine you are feeling……..” and you supply the one-word feeling that you guess they are having. Feelings are best described with one word, such as angry, sad, upset, afraid, happy, joyful, etc. Listen carefully and watch the other’s non-verbal behavior. Through words, tone of voice, body posture, and facial expression, you can guess their feeling. When you say, “You may be feeling________”, you have given the gift of understanding their feelings. They will let you know if you are on target, or they will correct you.
Human beings need three things: To be seen through eyes that hold no judgment; to be heard through accurate listening; and to be supported while they find their own way to who they really are. You can trust that when you give the gift of accurate listening to their words, comprehension of the meaning of those words, and understanding of the feelings behind those words, that person will be able to move beyond the moment. The feelings will change! Sometimes the ideas will also change, because the sense of being attacked will have diminished.
From Marjorie R. Barlow, Ph.D
(Read more about this in “Getting the Love You Want” by H. Hendrix)