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No. 57 – Hearing Feelings – 4

January 18, 2012

What do you say to a man who says, “I don’t want anything to do with radiation!“? Do you try to tell him that we live in a sea of radiation and it cannot be avoided? Do you tell him that radiation is one of the primary means of treating cancer? Or, do you respond with the active listening approach?

Active Listening

This is an approach to verbally show acceptance of the other person and respect for his feelings. The statement of the man above invites us to give data to try to change his mind about radiation. As well meaning as such efforts may seem, however, they discount his feelings, which is his reality. Dr. Thomas Gordon* has identified 12 such categories of responses, including:

  1. ordering, directing, commanding,
  2. warning, admonishing, threatening,
  3. exhorting, moralizing, preaching,
  4. advising, giving solutions, suggestions,
  5. lecturing, teaching, giving logical arguments
  6. judging, criticizing, disagreeing, blaming
  7. praising, agreeing
  8. name-calling, ridiculing, shaming
  9. interpreting, analyzing, diagnosing
  10. reassuring, sympathizing, consoling, supporting
  11. probing, questioning, interrogating
  12. withdrawing, distracting, humoring, diverting.

Active listening is a way of responding that does not discount feelings. The listener does not send a message of his own, such as an evaluation, opinion, advice, logic, analysis, or a question. Instead, he responds with only what he feels the speaker’s message meant, nothing more, nothing less. An active listening approach to the man above would take into account his apparent feelings. The listener’s response was, “Radiation is scary, isn’t it?

The man then said, “Yes it is, because you cannot feel it, see it, or taste it and you have no way of knowing when you are being exposed.” Active listening gives the other person permission to express his feelings. All feelings are OK. Active listening does not try to change feelings. Whether we agree or not, we do not have to make the other person wrong for his feelings.

*Gordon, T., Leader Effectiveness Training. Bantam Books, New York, 1977

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