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Supportive Listening™ May 2009 Newsletter
"Listening Tips" with Paul:
Active Silence

Several of my good friends have been going through challenging times, which means I’ve been doing a lot of Supportive Listening lately.

And in my listening I’ve started to take a much more active stance towards the moments of silence that invariably happen.

But what is “active silence?” Consider this scenario: There you are, listening to someone talk through a challenge. And then they stop talking.
What now? Do you ask a question? Share a WIG? Or just wait?

It’s easy to consider silence in conversations as being of little value. It can seem as if nothing is happening, as if it’s a time when as a listener you can just tune out while you wait for the speaker.

But I think that tuning out compromises the value of silence, for one simple reason. Great Supportive Listening conversations are powered by the connection between the two people. And that connection matters even when nobody is talking, and perhaps even especially when nobody is talking.

I’ve seen an active, connected silence give birth to many good things.

For one, when I sit in active silence with someone who has just expressed a worry, it often helps them to digest that worry and get more comfortable with it. I don't know what's going on, but the speaker seems to take a step forward.

Another outcome from an active silence is the joy of the unexpected—a surprising new insight that seems to come out of nowhere. Sometimes the longer silences are the ones that yield these moments of creativity.

I wonder if this happens because when one sits in silence for long enough, without the usual train of thought or interruption, it creates space for really new ideas to come up—the kind of ideas that move people in new directions.

Now how does one stay “active” during the silence in a conversation?


New Study, New Talk, New Workshop

Here’s the latest news on Supportive Listening:

  • Eran recently secured a research grant to run a study through Facebook.com. He’ll study how accurately people perceive their own emotional support skills, compared with what their friends say. If you would like to be a part of the study, stay tuned—once it's up and running, he'll let you know how to join in. 
  • Earlier this month Paul debuted a new interactive talk, Master the Tango of Listening, to the Macintalkers of Apple in Cupertino and the Toastmasters District 57 Spring Conference in Vallejo. People loved the tango metaphor, the stories, and the music.
  • Paul has developed an all day workshop specifically for health care called Plugging the Emotional Drain of Caring. He’ll be offering this workshop for the California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco in June.

"From the Listening Labs" with Eran: Let Them Hurt

My grandmother recently moved to a senior citizens home, and is not very happy about it. She misses her old apartment (where she lived for the past 2,000 years), she misses knowing that her old apartment exists as it used to (it was renovated by the people who live there now), she misses her autonomy, and having a gas stove.

She's doing okay; she's just not happy.

I visited her a little while ago, together with a few other family members. When, at some point, she mentioned how much she misses her old apartment and how unhappy she occasionally feels, one family member jumped in: "Well, You have to realize, You're getting older, and You can't do things as well as You used to. It's not safe for You to live alone. Your apartment is gone now - there's really nothing that can be done about it. You are not in a position to take care of yourself, and-"

I had to intervene.* I could see my grandmother growing more upset, feeling alone in her misery. I stopped the person who was speaking, quite forcefully, relative to me ("enough! There's no need to twist the knife. Really") and then turned to my grandmother and said "You really miss your old place, huh?"


Supportive Listening in Health Care

Do you know a health care group or community that could benefit from Supportive Listening? Check out the health care section of our website to see our latest offering "Plugging the Emotional Drain of Caring."

We can come work with you to tailor a workshop for your group's unique needs.

For more information, email Paul.

Presenting "Master the Tango of Listening"

Is your organization looking for a fun, interactive experience? Paul's new one hour talk includes stories from the dance floor, partner movement and listening exercises, and group discussion. Participants come away with a greater appreciation for the power of listening, and a practical tool they can start using right away.

Question? Contact Paul.

Supportive Listening Forums

Our free forums have a great Q&A section with a lot of information about Supportive Listening. You're welcome to browse what's there already and post questions, and answers, of your own.

Eran Magen conducts research on population health at the University of Pennsylvania as a Robert Wood Johnson Health & Society Scholar. He received his Ph.D. in psychology from Stanford University, where he also earned his M.A. in education. [more...]
Paul Konasewich teaches listening and leadership in the San Francisco Bay area. He is also the incoming President of the Bay Area Organization Development Network. Paul earned his MBA from the MIT Sloan School of Management. [more...]
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