Sonya Thomas lcsw

Attuned Listening

Being an attuned listener is not something that comes naturally to most of us.  Few of us were listened to in this way, nor was it modeled for us in our early environments.  But it is a skill that can be learned.  If you believe your relationship could benefit from better communication, the foundation of improving in this arena is based in attuned listening. It won’t solve all of your problems, but it is hard to imagine a problem being successfully resolved without attuned listening.  It’s important to note, as well, that attuned listening is not solely they purview of problem solving or conflict resolution.  It is also the foundation for progressively deeper emotional communication and the experience (and conveying) of empathy.  Below are some do’s and dont’s when it comes to attuned listening:

  • Invoke curiosity.  Get and stay curious throughout the conversation.
  • Strive for understanding. Confirm what you heard with the speaker to see if you have it right.
  • Hold the space for two distinct perspectives.  Understanding does not equal agreement.
  • Repair quickly and succinctly if you interrupt, get distracted, become defensive, or misunderstand.
  • Ask clarifying questions.
  • Inhabit the role of a passenger on the speaker’s train of thought. Follow their journey, at their pace.
  • Minimize talking as much as possible.  The only reason to talk is to ask a clarifying question, convey that you “get” what the other person is sharing, or to repair if you got off track.
  • Spend your time planning what you are going to say next/waiting for your turn to speak.
  • Try to “fix” things or offer unsolicited advice.
  • Split your focus between the speaker and your phone or something else. Multitasking in this way is a fallacy.
  • Try to finish or anticipate what the speaker is saying.
  • Take what the other person is saying so personally that you become defensive and unable to hear their side.
  • Completely shut down your own reaction to what the other person is saying. Your feelings and reactions are valid and it’s good to pay attention to what comes up for you.  Just keep your feelings in check as you occupy the role of attuned listener.
The next time you have a meaningful conversation with someone, try to implement the “do’s” and avoid the “don’ts”.  And remember, this is a skill that requires practice, so don’t throw in the towel if you do not get it right immediately.  The goal is to listen to understand, not to listen in order to respond.
Until next time, peace.