What is Active Listening?

from Judy's notebook

Content/Relationship Distinction

Communication takes place on two levels: the Content Level - the subject matter we are discussing - and the Relationship Level - what we communicate to the other person about how much we value them or accept them. The Relationship Level operates primarily on feelings: "I feel - valued, accepted, comfortable." If there is mutual respect and trust at a Relationship level, it is possible to agree or disagree with equal comfort. But, if the mutual respect and trust do not exist, then every Content Level issue can also become a test of the relationship.

Acceptance of Feelings

One way we communicate acceptance, trust and respect at a Relationship Level is by communicating acceptance of feelings as well as facts. If we only accept facts from people, we are accepting them conditionally: "I will accept only certain parts of you; I will accept you as long as you aren't expressing feelings." People, however, come fully equipped with feelings and that is a great part of what makes them uniquely them. The result is that when people express feelings and they are not accepted, they tend to push harder as if to prove that their feelings are justified, or to prove to themselves that it is really all right to feel the way they do. On the other hand, when feelings are accepted, they now come out less pressured, less accusatory and less defensive. In addition, once expressed, other deeper feelings can flow in behind.

Acceptance is Different from Agreement

We have been talking about accepting feelings, but let's distinguish acceptance from agreement. You express acceptance when you say: "I understand that you feel such-and-such a way about this topic." You express agreement when you say: "You couldn't be more right. I feel that way too." In the first you accept that the other person feels the way he does, but in agreement you ally yourself with the other person. One way we run into problems with feelings is to assume that, if someone has a different feeling than ours, one of us must be right and one of us must be wrong. But another way of looking at it is to consider that when two people react differently to the same situation, they are reacting within the rules of their own upbringing, training, experiences and values. Because upbringing, training, experiences and values are absolutely unique to each person, the rules which govern feelings are also absolutely unique to each person. Since the rules are different for each individual, I cannot assume that just because I was horrified by an event means that someone else may not be delighted - and be perfectly consistent within his or her individual reality. Yet we have a tendency to try to obliterate the other person's feelings and try to prove that ours are correct. This proves nothing. It is a fact that he feels the way he feels. The only appropriate behavior is to accept this fact and begin to report the way we feel. We may not have the same reactions to the same experiences, but we can begin to share enough of what is going on in us to begin to understand each other.


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    The address of this page is http://proteuscoven.com/counsel/active.htm
    Contents of this page are as found in Judy's notebook; the original author is unknown.