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March 2009   Supportive Listening™   Newsletter
Listening Tips:
WAIT! Don't close
that door.

So there I am, the Supportive Listener, doing the listening thing. And it’s working. My dear friend is exploring her challenge, her mind is working, the ideas are flowing. And then it happens. She says to me, very earnestly, “So Paul, what should I do?”

Wow, this is tempting. I love to help people, and I have been known to blurt out advice. But this time is different—I’m doing a good job of just listening, of not jumping in. Ah, finally I’m being asked for advice. Great! So I’m ready to roll. They asked me for it, right?

WAIT! Although in one way it’s true: words did come out of my friend’s mouth that sounded an awful lot like a direct request for advice. But let’s be a little smarter about this. “What  should I do?”often has a much more important meaning than “give me advice”—it can be a doorway to great thinking.

That’s right, when the speaker says “What should I do?” they are standing right on the doorway of their own insight. The great ideas are just about to flow out of them. It’s about to happen.

But here’s the trick: if I answer that question, that apparent request for advice, I am *slamming* that door of insight shut. The minute I give advice, my friend goes into “receiving” mode, and their mind shifts gears. The momentum shifts from “her working towards the solution” to “me solving it.” All of those great ideas she was about to uncover are quietly tucked away. Now she’s just following along, as I generate the ideas, I lead the way.

What I propose to you is this: when the speaker is in charge, the results are more fruitful and more empowering. It’s the “best case scenario” when someone solves their own problem. So why not give that process a chance?

Instead of answering your friend’s oh so tempting “What should I do?” question, do this: bounce it back to them. It takes practice to develop your own style; my favorite way


Supportive Listening for Couples

Imagine this. What would it be like if every day you had someone you could turn to for great listening? Someone who would listen to you with exquisite presence and connection, as you talked through the challenges of your day. Wouldn't that be great?

Well guess what? Your partner could be that person! We're preparing to offer Supportive Listening workshops designed specifically for couples. In these workshops, you'll learn how to provide effective support and inspiration through listening, while avoiding the pitfalls. If you know of a community center or group in the Bay Area that might like to host this workshop, please let Paul know.

We always like to hear from you. Send us a note and let us know how your Supportive Listening practice is going. Questions? Stories? Insights? Let us know.

Best regards,

Paul and Eran.

btw: For 2009 we'll be sending out a full newsletter like this one every other month.


From the Listening Labs:
More Support, Less Drain: Differentiation in Supportive Listening

True emotional connection is one of the key ingredients of good listening.

Unfortunately, when we come into emotional contact with someone who is upset, the experience can be difficult for us: We put forth our best Supportive Listening attitude, we try to relate to the other's experience and to understand what it must like to be them - and we find that we are becoming upset ourselves, just like the person we are listening to. I can't believe they did that to his car! How dare they talk about her like that? It's just heartbreaking that he lost everything...

Many people intuitively assume that we provide the best support by displaying, and even experiencing, the same emotions as the person we are talking with. The reasoning is something like: This way they'll know I'm on their side, and will feel better. He is sad? I'll be sad as well. She's annoyed? I'll be annoyed too. These are examples of taking on another person's emotions - a state that Murray Bowen termed "Emotional Fusion."

Although this approach makes intuitive sense, it leads to two problematic consequences, which diminish our ability to provide effective support:

(1) Being upset is an emotionally intense state, and will drain us before long. If we know that whenever we talk to somebody who is angry (or sad, or afraid) we become angry (or sad, or afraid), we will begin avoiding these conversations, and provide less support overall.

(2) Ironically, the person  [continued...]

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.

A Workshop for your Group

Do you know a group or community that could benefit from Supportive Listening? If so, let us know.

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

Questions? Email us or see the FAQ for organizers.

Presenting "The Magic of Supportive Listening"

Interested in helping to spread the word about listening? Paul is available to give his presentation, "The Magic of Supportive Listening", which includes stories, research, and a fun hands-on listening exercise. Here's a 5-minute sample of the presentation.

If your club or organization is looking for speakers, contact us.
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