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Listening with Love

Being listened to is so close to being loved that most people don’t know the difference

- David Augsburger

When do you feel someone is truly listening to you? What do they do? Or not do?

Our perception of being listened to is dependent on the response of the other person. In his book Flourish, Martin Seligmann describes four basic ways of responding to another person, only one of which actually builds relationship, only one makes the other person feel truly listened to. 

The negative ways of listening include passive destructive listening which does not acknowledge the emotion of the other person and changes the topic or shuts down any other conversation. Similarly, a passive constructive response fails to acknowledge the emotion of the other person, but uses responses from our social autopilot. Active destructive response does acknowledge the emotion of the other person but offers the opposite response. Only an active constructive response which acknowledges, shares, and amplifies the emotion of the other builds relationship. 

For example, if my daughter brings me a picture that she has drawn and says, “Look, Daddy.” I might respond with, “Have you cleaned your room?” (passive, destructive). I might respond without even looking, “That’s nice. Why don’t you draw one for your mother?” (passive, constructive). I might even respond with criticism about perspective, color, neatness, or composition, something like, “Why are the arms too long and the legs too short on this person?” (active, destructive). If I am interested in building relationship, I might say something like, “Tell me more about this part of your picture.”

This isn’t always easy, especially when we are tired, stressed, busy, or otherwise distracted. It takes attention and intention to truly listen and to respond in a way that builds relationship, in a way that indeed feels like love. How might you practice responding in an active, constructive way?

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