That Active Listening skill again

“All I really wanted was for someone to listen and say they understood what I'd gone through”

In an article from the Herts Advertiser, published 18 March 2021, a woman was prompted to talk about her abuser/stalker experiences, and her sadness that these kind of events continue to happen. In one paragraph she mentions the reaction from her male friends:-

  • “I’ve tried to talk to my male friends about some of these incidents, and their reaction has been a mix of anger and vengeance as they wanted to take action against my abusers, when all I really wanted was for someone to listen and say they understood what I’d gone through. It almost perpetuates the idea of angry machismo, which is the last thing you want to experience, and has prevented me from sharing my stories as a result.”

Another example of the clear need for just listening. This woman KNEW that’s what she wanted – to have the experience that someone was focusing on HER experience, and understanding what it had been like.

Her men friends, in an effort to show support, responded with the male go-to behaviours of ‘we’ll fix that’ – anger and punishment.

As she says, rather than feeling helped and supported - the effect they wanted - the result is that she feels a lot less like sharing again.

In ‘Gordon language’ her friends responded with Roadblocks, in this case with Solutions. As with all Roadblocks these carry underlying negative messages that we don’t intend, in this case mostly ‘We don’t think you can do anything about this, we’ll have to fix it’. So she ends up feeling inadequate and powerless as well as unheard.

How would Active Listening have helped?

  • By communicating empathy and acceptance - two of the essential qualities that counsellors are trained to use – and recognising that there is immense value in ‘giving the other person the floor’ in order to explain their experiences, with the comfort of having someone understand what happened to them and how they feel.
  • We’re often so desperate to make things better that putting our own feelings/suggestions aside for a moment is not easy, it can feel like we’re doing nothing.
  • Our anger at what happened to someone we care about is legitimate, but at this point it won’t help our friend’s process of coming to terms with it, or thinking about what she is going to do about it. In a later conversation we can explain our own feelings.

Gordon courses teach Listening skills and when it is appropriate to Active Listen (a way to reflect someone’s message and feelings, ensuring they feel accepted, and helping them to move on to decide what they might do).

Listening Skills can help in all relationships and many parents who come to P.E.T. courses to learn better ways to get on with their children, report that the skills they have learnt help them in other relationships e.g. with their partner, their in-laws or their work colleagues.