When we have problems or difficulties which we want to talk about or discuss we usually gravitate towards a family member or friend who is a good listener. We value and prize a person who truly listens to us, who is interested in what we are saying and who is supportive of us.
It’s not surprising that the characteristics of a good listener are found in one of the most influential counselling practices of our time – Person-Centred Therapy.
We can all learn a great deal from its founder, Carl Rogers, and the particular counselling therapy he created, when we aim to be a good listener.
Person-Centred Counselling offers the following key principles which we can learn from to enhance our own listening skills:
Unconditional positive regard: non-judgmental and non-problem solving listening
Empathic listening – showing genuine care
Client centred approach – focus on the other, not on the self – this is not a place for the counsellor to talk of his/her problems
Unconditional Positive Regard
Whatever the circumstances and whatever a person is voicing, Rogers’ approach of unconditional positive regard means that the person you are listening to remains a person of intrinsic worth and value. This intrinsic worth is a constant and does not depend on what is being said and whether or not you agree with it. Offering this level of personal regard, respect and value is the benchmark of good listening.
With person-centred therapy the counsellor offers no value judgements. All words are heard without judgement or disapproval. This is listening with a truly supportive ear and we can all learn from this approach. When listening, we are not there to cast judgement or make a person feel uncomfortable. We are not there to berate or shame a person. We need to aim to listen without voicing our own particular morality or making someone feel disapproved of. This kind of supportive and skilled listening, will usually lead to the person we are listening to feeling more fully able to truthfully reveal themselves.
Non-problem solving listening
With Rogers as our guide we listen without giving advice or offering solutions to problems. This is a trap we often fall into when listening. We tend to leap in to attempt to solve something. Often, though, people do not want a solution, they just want to ventilate their feelings and this should be allowed and encouraged. There is a lot to be said for not offering advice unless it is requested. Or, at the very least, asking a person if they would actually welcome some of our own personal thoughts.
Empathic listening – showing genuine care
Empathy involves putting ourselves in another’s shoes. Not in imagining what we would do or feel, but what the person in front of us, with their life experiences feels. When we truly show empathy our genuine care is evident. Listening with this level of empathy encourages connection and makes a person feel truly heard and valued.
Client Centred Approach
If we visit a counsellor we wouldn’t expect them to spend our session revealing information about their own life whenever we mention something which is relevant to them. In a similar way, it is all too easy when listening to someone to leap in with our own story, especially when they are talking about something we have some knowledge of. But this is not good listening. Listening is about someone else’s story – not an opportunity to reveal our own experiences.
Being a Good Listener
It’s not easy being a good listener. It can be quite a frustrating enterprise, especially if we believe we have a ‘solution’ or if we have problems of our own which we long to share. If we think about Rogers’ approach, though, it can set a template for the best listening of all:
To listen without judgement and disapproval
To listen without offering unsolicited advice
To demonstrate genuine empathy
To keep focused, when listening, on the other persons’ experiences rather than attempting to share our own.
Listening is a highly prized skill and one which it is well worth acquiring. Good listening will enable us to be truly helpful to people. It will also allow us to develop deep and lasting friendships which will be built on genuine values and selfless attitudes.