Take them to the next level through listening
One of the most beautiful pieces of recovery is the sharing of stories—the connection that happens between two people or a group of people. There is a bond and mutual respect that occurs based on witnessing another person share their most painful times and how they healed.
Meaningful conversations take effort. The first step toward a deeper connection and conversation is to listen. We live in a world that doesn’t always listen, and this permeates into our lives in recovery. We are inundated with technology on a daily basis. Our brains have adapted to multi-tasking, and our attention span has shortened. If we are distracted by the phone in our hands or trying to think of a response before the person has even finished speaking, then we are guilty of not really listening or being present.
Active listening is a skill used often by coaches and counselors to build relationships, but you don’t need to be a professional to use this skill.
Using active listening in your own recovery journey will deepen your relationships, build trust, allow you to feel more empathy, help you practice mindfulness, and learn to be more present.
When you actively listen, you also create a safe place for vulnerability to exist. In turn, the trust that develops allows your own voice to be heard in a more expansive way.
Here are some tips for developing your practice of active listening and meaningful conversation:
- Put down distractions: Turn off your phone notifications and set it aside. If you’re somewhere that is noisy or offers distractions, face yourself towards the person in a way that won’t tempt you to look around.
- Body language: There’s a reason the saying “poker face” exists, our bodies and facial expressions tell a story! It’s important to notice your own body language. Sit or stand in a way that is open, make eye contact, nod in affirmation.
- Listen to listen, not to respond: How often are you already thinking of what you want to say next before the person has even finished their thought? We all do this because we’ve learned that responding is what you’re supposed to do in a conversation, but how do we respond if we haven’t really heard? As your mind begins to drift, bring it back to the words that the person in front of you is saying. As with meditation, you can’t always help it if your brain drifts, however you can acknowledge your thought and come back to the present.
- Affirmation: Simple ways to affirm what you heard include a simple nodding of the head or making an affirmative noise such as “mhmm.” Another way is by reflecting back to the person by restating what you heard them say, then giving the time for them to confirm if this was accurate.
- Ask permission to respond or offer advice: Sometimes it’s just about getting something off their chest; the person isn’t looking for advice or for someone to fix the situation. Having someone listen to them sharing their truth could be the only thing that person needs. Ask for permission before responding with your own personal story or offering advice.
- Ask open ended questions: Instead of giving advice, ask questions. Support their process by helping them work through their own answers rather than immediately offering advice. Curiosity also shows interest that you want to learn more about the person or the situation.
- It’s okay to want to be heard too: Active listening isn’t about not having a voice, it’s about allowing someone the space to use their voice before you jump in.. In any meaningful conversation, there is the opportunity for everyone to share their own stories, insight or struggles. Wait for the time in the conversation when it is appropriate to offer your thoughts or before you switch gears to talk about something going on in your life.
Just like any new skill, active listening and meaningful conversation takes practice. It’s okay to not do this perfectly right away or all of the time. You can continue to develop the skill and see how it benefits you and your relationships.
Try it out!