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August 2008    Supportive Listening™   Newsletter
Supportive Emailing?
(hint: yes)

I think about providing caring, attentive, supportive attention, I usually think about it in the context of a face-to-face conversation, or maybe a phone conversation. But, over the years, I've had the opportunity to provide just this kind of attention through a medium I didn't expect - Email.

People often share big things over Email. There's something about it that allows some people to open up in a way that they're not usually comfortable doing, and some incredibly sensitive, important experiences can come up.

When this happens, my first reaction is to do exactly all of the things that we usually recommend *not* doing as part of Supportive Listening - to promise everything will be okay, to give advice, to pass judgment. Because what else can I do? It's not like I can WIG over Email, right?

But I can. In fact, Email provides a beautiful and rare opportunity to connect with another person's words in a much more extensive way than usual, because I can read and re-read them. Although I lose a lot of the benefits of real-time, face-to-face conversation, I can now replay the other person's thoughts as many times as I need to really understand the other person's experience.

And when I understand it, I write it back. I don't need to become an analyst, or dispense any wisdom - I just try to relate to my friend's experience. It can be as simple as "it sounds really scary, to have so many things going on all at once, and not knowing which of them is actually a problem and which of them You can ignore."

People are surprised to realize that I read what they write so attentively, take the time to relate to the experience, and don't seem to pass judgment on it. And these are exactly the benefits of Supportive Listening - whether face-to-face, over the phone, or by Email.

So next time a friend shares a difficult, complex, or intense experience over Email - try pausing for a moment, reading the letter again, and trying to really understand what it's like to be your friend, going through that experience. And then WIG, to let them know that You've done all this, and in order to verify your understanding.

Give it a try. You never know. :-)

— Eran
What's next for Supportive Listening

Now that we've completed our initial set of workshops, we are planning for a new phase of Supportive Listening work.

Last month Paul went to Philadelphia to visit Eran in his new environs. Eran will officially start with the Robert Woods Johnson program in September, and will be kicking off a research project about listening. You'll no doubt hear more about this in future.

Back in the Bay Area, Paul is looking at how to bring Supportive Listening into healthcare and higher education environments. If you have any strong contacts in these areas that would be interested in Supportive Listening, please let us know.

And finally, we both miss the public workshops and in idle moments talk about doing more of them in future. If this happens, you'll hear about it first!

Thanks again for your enthusiasm and support. Remember—listening works!

Best regards,

- Paul and Eran


Listening as Augmentative Medicine

The topic of listening often comes up in discussions about health care. One angle is quite straightforward – the transmission of information between patient and doctor. But another angle is quite tricky – the emotional process between patient and doctor.

On Monday evening I was watching an Israeli television show called In Therapy and was amazed to see that in the first five minutes of the episode, the client does nothing but sob. It reminded me that emotions can be like weather– they take on a course of their own that just has to play out.

It struck me how challenging it would be for anyone to stay cool in a situation like that, hanging in while a client’s emotions take their course.

At yet great listening around emotions really can help. A New York Times article about listening and Oncology gives a beautiful anecdote about the value that listening and connection provided for one person's successful battle with cancer. As the article points out, even little bits of good listening can make a big difference – and it’s a teachable skill.

There is a challenging reality, though, that a doctor recently reminded me of. He was recounting the amazing number of things he needs to get done in his day, and speaking to his own frustration at not being able to spend more time with patients.

And he's not alone, as touched on by this New York Times article about problems in the healthcare system:

““Nobody is talking to the patients,” Dr. Jauhar went on. “Everyone is so rushed. I don’t think the doctors are bad people — they are just working in a broken system.”

Yet there are opportunities even within this system. The doctor I was speaking with said that he’d started trying Supportive Listening in his longer appointments, especially at the beginning.

AAnd although it meant that he might not get as far through his checklist, he saw better connection with the patient, and felt that they’d be more likely to follow the treatment plan. Now *there* is somebody who can see both the forest and the trees.

There is great potential for Supportive Listening to help doctors – even busy ones – use listening to help the healing process.

— Paul

See our blog for more articles.

Supportive Listening Forums

Congrats to our winner of our July Supportive Listening forum contest. We'd like to thank "anon_happy" (who shall remain both anonymous and happy!) for contributing to the online forum.

Our 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 Paul or see the FAQ for organizers.

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