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Listening to Hard to Hear Expressions

Ready to explode if you hear one more statement from someone you care about that just goes against the grain of everything you believe in?! Tired of hearing people complain about what they don't like or don't agree with? Ever think, "I just can't listen to another word" and then imagine a piece of duct tape over the other person's mouth thinking "I just want a moment of peace!"? Listening to people speak their mind when they are angry or in opposition to our own thinking can be extremely frustrating if we are caught up in thinking about who is right and who is wrong, especially if we think we are absolutely right and the other person is nuts! 

There is another way to focus our attention when listening that will allow us peace as well as open the possibility for actual understanding and connection to someone who thinks very differently than we do. Listening does not have to be about right or wrong or about having to agree with someone. It can simply be about respectfully understanding another person's experience, ideas, feelings and values. If we can listen with this intention we can relax our attachment to right/wrong and agreeing with a position. We can simply focus on being curious and understanding one another. If this is our focus our responses shift from defending, convincing, educating, evaluating and judging to checking for understanding, asking to hear more, reflecting what we hear, and guessing what is important to the speaker.

Every person has a whole history full of life experience that creates the filter through which we perceive, interpret, evaluate, and make choices. Our history is a collection of life experience in which needs have been met and unmet. The pain of unmet needs remains alive in us unless we have given it loving attention, empathy and healing. We form beliefs about life and people based on our experiences and then we speak and act according to those beliefs.

For example, if I have lived my life working very hard to make a living and I see people on welfare and I don't know their history, I may judge that they aren't working like I am and are just taking advantage of people like me and the system. It is hard for me to see them get support and I may judge them as lazy and a burden on me since I pay taxes on my hard earned income. If I do not speak to them and understand what has brought them to their situation, I don't really know what is going on for them. I am assuming and judging and being angry based on limited information and understanding. I just know that I am in pain and wish life were easier and I want it to be fair. I have no insight to the difficulties of the other's life challenges and limitations and I assume they could just get a job and work hard like I do. This creates a sense of anger and separation between me and them. Now, let's say I share my views with a friend who has grown up through the welfare system and a has a very different life history than me. She has made her way in the world now. This friend has a very different understanding of how and why people are on welfare and values the support it offers people with less capacity and advantage. We could get into a big argument over our views about welfare and make each other wrong. We could alternately, become curious about each other's experience and values and try to understand each other's perspective and the history that leads to that perspective. We could have compassion for each other's difficult life experience and care for our challenges and unmet needs.

How can we do this? NVC offers us the tools of self-empathy and empathic listening. We need to listen to our own pain with love and gentleness in order to be available to listen to someone else. That is the first step. If we are stimulated in anger, trauma, fear, resentment and judgment, it is pretty hard to be present and available to hear someone else. So we need to become calm and present first in order to listen to someone else. Once we are available, then we can actually listen for what is going on and what is important to the other person. Being curious about feelings and the values/needs underlying them is the core skill of being empathically present to someone. Making some guesses that then reflect the feelings and values of the speaker is the empathic response. It is amazing how clarifying and connecting this can be for both people in a conversation. To learn the detailed skills and consciousness for becoming more present and responding with empathy, you can attend an NVC/Compassionate Communication Training. Here is an upcoming day-long workshop on Deep Listening & Empathy in Boulder, CO:

I hope you will join me in the Denver/Boulder area for upcoming learning opportunities. You can find my training schedule on this site or at

Warmest Wishes,






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