“We think we listen, but very rarely do we listen with real understanding, true empathy. Yet listening, of this very special kind, is one of the most potent forces for change that I know.” 

 Carl Rogers, Rogerian psychologist.

Something that I remind my clients of is the idea that as human beings we ideally need and crave three fundamental factors from our environment and support system. Firstly to feel seen, secondly, to feel heard, and thirdly to feel understood. This is why therapy can be such a positive experience as it encompasses those three fundamentals. These are achieved through one being able to actively listen and for the other to be actively heard. Research by Husman, Lahiff, and Penrose uncovered that the average person listens at only about 25% efficiency.

How can we engage in active listening and increase that statistic? Avoid multitasking, just sit, be still and listen with the intention of understanding and a stance of compassionate curiosity. Listening doesn’t require problem solving or advice giving, this is often well-intentioned but it can cause a feeling of censorship for the speaker.

It is the act of hearing a person’s narrative and occasionally validating that narrative. We can affirm someone’s story by providing empathy and by using what we call ‘reflective listening’. To echo what the person has said and to try to capture their own words of their emotional experience and reflect it back to them. This allows a person to feel truly heard through a lens of empathy and their own experience. The lens is clear and not clouded by judgement, problem-solving or downplaying an experience.  

In 2014 Morelli published an article that reflected his study’s findings regarding feeling understood- “feeling understood activated neural regions previously associated with reward and social connection, while not feeling understood activated neural regions previously associated with negative affect…Feeling understood makes individuals feel valued, respected and validated . . . and leads to important changes in affective experience and feelings of social connection.”

To feel seen, heard and understood is to engage in effective communication and to feel authentically connected through the art of sharing and having someone truly listen. This experience builds trust and creates an affirming feeling. Practice active listening with friends, family members, partners and your children. 

It is an important step to create a mind-positive society. Invite active listening into your relationships to take the place of feeling of lonely and isolate. The affect will have a positive impact on only on your relationships but on your mood.

written by Ashton Hayley Robertson, Clinical Psychologist