According to Michael P. Nichols, Ph.D., few motives in human experience are as powerful as the yearning to be understood. Being listened to means that we are taken seriously, that our ideas and feelings are known, and ultimately, that what we have to say matters. I completely agree…
The yearning to be listened to and understood is a desire to escape our separateness and bridge the space that divides us. We reach out and try to overcome that separateness by revealing what’s on our minds and in our hearts, hoping for understanding. Getting that understanding should be simple, but it isn’t. We have all experienced the hurt of not being listened to, not being heard, not understood.
The essence of good listening is empathy, which can be achieved only by suspending our preoccupation with ourselves and entering into the experience of the other person. Part intuition and part effort, it is the stuff of human connection.
A listener’s empathy — understanding what we are trying to say and showing it — builds a bond of understanding, linking us to someone who understands and cares and thus confirming that our feelings are recognizable and legitimate. The power of empathic listening is the power to transform relationships. When deeply felt but unexpressed feelings take shape in words that are shared and come back clarified, the result is a reassuring sense of being understood, and a grateful feeling of shared humanness with the one who understands.
If listening strengthens our relationships by cementing our connection with another, it also fortifies our sense of self. In the presence of a receptive listener, we are able to clarify what we think and discover what we feel. Thus, in giving an account of our experience to someone who listens, we are better able to listen to ourselves. Our lives are coauthored in dialogue.
Listening is so basic that we take it for granted. Unfortunately, most of us think of ourselves as better listeners than we are.
Take this Listening Skills Test provided by Psychology Today!
Nichols, M. P. (1995). The Lost Art of Listening: How Learning to Listen Can Improve Relationships. The Guilford Press.