Tag Archives: Communication

5 Ways To Be A Better Listener

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Everybody’s talkin’ at me
Can’t hear a word they’re sayin’
Only the echos of my mind”

Remember that Fred Neil song?

Popularized by others – chiefly Harry Nilsson in Midnight Cowboy –  and covered by over 100 other artists, that lonesome feeling it evokes is perfect for today.

Not being heard, especially when surrounded by others, is as lonesome as it gets.

It’s sad when we feel this way. And, maybe it’s sadder still when we are the one’s not listening.

So, listen up folks – here’s the low down on listening.

  1. We’re all pretty bad at it. So first-off I’m inviting you to invest a delightful 7:46 minutes watching Julian Treasure’s TED Talk “5 Ways To Listen Better”. For those who don’t like to watch videos, I’ve printed out the main take-aways after the video, below.
  1. Ever noticed how you listen to yourself? I find we’re masters at ignoring, distorting, minimizing, ridiculing and avoiding ourselves. What’s with that? Tune-in on May 13th to re-tune your inner cacophony.
  1. Guess what? All those “skills” we use on ourselves – all that ignoring, distorting, minimizing, ridiculing and avoiding – this is how we treat others too. Not to mention the astonishing filters we employ to be sure not to let the words’ of others resonate within our hearts. May 20 we’ll attend to our attention.
  1. Once Upon A Time . . “  And finally, on May 27th, I invite you to pull up a rocker, snuggle up with a Blankie and allow yourself to be lulled by the magic of “Once Upon A Time.” There’s so much we can learn from listening like children; from listening as children. And, it’s great fun!


“Listening” in this series of articles is not just about sound. Julian’s TED talk is – but really for me this is about attention. Where and how we pay attention. I’d love to hear from any readers whose attention is exclusively brokered visually rather than both auditorily and visually. But please know I am thinking of you as I compose these pieces.

Here’s Julian’s TED talk.

Or, if you prefer, here are his ~

Five Simple Exercises to Improve Your Own Conscious Listening.


Just three minutes a day of silence is a wonderful exercise to reset your ears and to recalibrate your attention so that you can hear the quiet again. If you can’t get absolute silence, go for quiet, that’s absolutely fine.


Even when you are in a noisy environment, like a hectic coffee shop for example, let yourself notice how many individual channels you can identify. Maybe an espresso machine; cups rattling; a dishwasher; distant conversation; close-up conversation; an ambulance siren. Or, take nature. How many distinct noises do you hear? How many birds am I hearing? Where are they? Where are those ripples? It’s a great exercise for improving the quality of your listening.


This is a beautiful exercise. It’s about enjoying mundane sounds. Focus on one familiar sound. Julian notices his tumble dryer and observes ~ “It’s a waltz. One, two, three. One, two, three. One, two, three. I love it !” Mundane sounds can be really interesting if you pay attention. I call that the hidden choir. It’s around us all the time.


Screen shot 2015-05-05 at 3.14.52 PMThis is the idea that you can move your listening position to what’s appropriate to what you’re listening to.

Try these for a start 

Screen shot 2015-05-05 at 2.54.24 PMIt’s playing with those filters. It’s starting to play with them as levers, to get conscious about them and to move to different places.

Here are some typical filters


RASA, which is the Sanskrit word for juice or essence.

And RASA stands for

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Receive, which means pay attention to the person;

Appreciate, making little noises like “hmm,” “oh,” “okay”;

Summarize, the word “so” is very important in communication;

Ask, ask questions afterward.


This is the latest article in a year-long series on the “12-most-important-relationship-skills-no-one-ever-taught-me-in-school-but-I-sure-wish-they-had.

Click the box for the full list.  Top 12 Relationship Skills

If you are interested in reading this blog in sequence, below are links to the series to date, beginning with the first posting at the top.



SKILL ONE ~ Recognize (and get to know) the many “yous.”

SKILL TWO ~ Learn how to be pro-active: choose how y’all show up.

 SKILL THREE ~ Accept (and get curious about) other peoples’ complexity


SKILL FOUR ~ Master the Art of Conversation

Respond, Don’t React

Your spouse gets home, flings down their bag and snaps “What a hell-of-a-day! I need to go for a run. What’s for dinner?

Your knee-jerk REACTION might be “Ask me about MY day why don’t you! You’re so selfish you think the entire planet revolves around you!”

Your more thoughtful RESPONSE might be “Sorry you had such a terrible day. I’m pretty bushed too. Go for your run, and then can you finish dinner prep? I think 30 minutes of Yoga will cure what ails me.”

When we REACT we’re so deeply zoomed in on our own perspective there’s no room for any more information. We lead with our egos, assume we know enough to make snap judgments, take everything personally, and are entirely vulnerable to outside conditions for our mood.

When we RESPOND we swap out the zoom lens for the wide-angle. We pull our focus out beyond our immediate, limited perspective so we can see self-in-context. We become the director of our movie rather than the actor. As director, we can change the script at any time. We become “the one who watches” rather than “the one who reacts.”  In the pause, or space, this zooming-out creates, we can choose our response.

We humans tend to dwell in (and between) one of two psychological states most of the time

  • REACTIVE – we feel stressed, victims of events, rigid, and tend to say and do things we later regret
  • RESPONSIVE – we’re relaxed, in charge, flexible, and at our best.

Most psychological growth is about shifting the balance of these two states from REACTIVE toward RESPONSIVE. Meditation, mindfulness and therapy are all focused on teaching and practicing the three “Conditions of Responsiveness” (for want of a better term!)

  1. Cultivate Self-Awareness
  2. Inhabit the Pause
  3. Expand Possibilities

Here are my Top 3 Tips for Boosting Your Mastery of Each Condition

1. Cultivate Self-Awareness ~

  1. Check in with yourself.  Identify a trigger that gets your attention several times a day ( an hourly alarm, red traffic lights, a passing airplane, an urge to check Facebook). When you notice this, check in. What mood are you in? How do you feel? Parrott Emotions Tree 2001  Do you need anything? (see Use Feelings to Identify Needs). Note a few words about your state, e.g, 9:00am – exhausted, hungry, anxious; 11:00am – sugar buzz, irritated, bored.  This simple practice gets your out of your experience and allows you to “Be the one who watches.”
  2. Put your shoes away. I learned this at convent boarding school. Lose your beret or prayer-book and there was Sister Francis ready to swat. You probably don’t need to track your beret, but the simple practice of being mindful about the placement of one item in your life pushes your awareness.
  3. Replay a moment. In some down time, reflect upon a part of your day that comes to mind. What were you thinking? How did things go? Could it have gone better?  Again, this simple reflection and critique expands your ability to “be the one who watches.”

Inhabit the Pause ~

  1. Buy time.  Right at the impact – an incoming stimulus from your selfish spouse, angry kid, unreasonable boss – right then before you react, try taking a long slow, deep inhale; take off your glasses and rub your temples; stand up and stretch; shift your body somehow to break the spell.
  2. Be Honest.  Say something like “I’m working on not reacting, so give me a moment here.”  “Humm – let me think about that for a while.”
  3. Invite a Do-Over.  “Wow, that hit me the wrong way. Can you say that again, but more slowly, (more gently, less loudly)?”

Expand Possibilities ~

  1. Name the Issue.  To demonstrate you’re not trapped in your own perspective, name what you think is bugging you.  “Hang on, sounds like we both had dreadful days.” “You want to have a mid-week sleep over even though that’s against our family rules?”
  2. Invite Fantasy.  Rather than a knee-jerk insult or “No!” expand the realm of possible responses by inviting the other person to tell you what they wish you’d say. “Well high there Mr. Bad Day! What would your fantasy perfect wife say to that?”   “Well my darling, you know we think mid-week sleep-overs are a bad idea, but tell me, what do you wish I’d say?”
  3. Team Up. Unless there’s an emergency, you probably don’t have to come up with the definitive answer right now.  If you’ve named the issue, sought out some idealized (and probably impractical) possibilities, try teaming up for find a win/win. “Hum, how be you run first, then take over dinner while I do 30 minutes of Yoga.” Or “What’s so special about that night for the sleepover? Might other nights work? What is the real issue here?”

As with any of my suggestions, I’m always interested to know what works and what else you’ve tried that works for you.

PS: Another longer posting – sorry! This just over 800.

Talking With Teens About Exam Results

Living here in New Zealand with a daughter who has just finished Year 12, I’m fully aware of the stress this week can bring to homes across the country: Yes – the dreaded NCEA results are now posted.

How will my daughter react? How well has she done? Do her results seem fair in her mind? In my mind? Do these results open more doors for her than they close? Will her results encourage her to keep on getting more formal education, or put her off and make a gap year or an early start into the working world more likely?

As a mum I’m very much aware of how important these moments with our older children can be. At this age our teens are craving to see the jigsaw puzzle pieces of their lives begin to form some discernable image. They are longing to figure out “who am I and how do I fit in here?” Exam results are one more piece of the puzzle. Increasingly they are receiving feedback from the world about their success in handling the hurdles we place in front of them to enter this wider world. Are they attending, finishing and getting passing grades in Years 11, 12 and 13? Are they effective in group work? Do they pull their weight or slack off? How do they handle the pressure of assignment deadlines? How do they manage the intense boy/girl scene as hormonal roller coasters kick in? Can they get that waitressing job on top of sports, babysitting and a heavy social media agenda?  Does it make more sense to leave College after Year 11 or Year 12 because other opportunities make more sense?

As a Relationship Therapist and a mum I’m very much aware of how important these moments with our older children can be, but for a different reason.  I am aware that as the wider world pulls our teens increasingly into it’s grasp, trying to slot our precious child into an appropriate societal mould, my ability to influence and shape this young person is dwindling – and fast. I can no longer run interference between my child and the way the world sees him or her.  No amount of tasty home-made lunches, ironed shirts, helped-with science projects, library-book runs, exciting birthday invitations and car rides chanting the times tables will help my teenager take responsibility for his or her next steps.

All I have left – as the parent of a teen – is my relationship with him or her. And that relationship is built, one day at a time, one conversation at a time.

So – back to the exam results.

Parents – my invitation to you as you meet this next round of “judgment” from the world upon your teen – is to consider these three things:

  1. Know that every conversation you have with your teen (with anyone!) will do one of two things: It will bring you closer or it will push you apart.
  2. When everything else in your teen’s life is so totally full of risk, change, flux and uncertainty, the biggest gift you can give your teen is the consistency of your loving, supportive presence.
  3. So, if you want a conversation with your teen about exam results (or anything else that matters to them) can you set yourself an intention to use this conversation to grow closer?

 5 Tips for Conversations That Bring You Closer

 1.     START GENTLY. This is easy when you are in a good mood and having a happy conversation, but even if you are anxious or angry, start carefully. One great opening line is simply to state your intention to have a good conversation and an acknowledgment of your own emotional state.  E.g., “Betsy, I’d love to have a chat about your NCEA results. I find I’m feeling a bit anxious since I know how much you were dreading these. Is now a good time?”

2.     GET CURIOUS. If a conversation is to be a genuine conversation then there needs to be some back and forth. All too often our attempts to share can fall victim to the one-way lecture! If you want to know about Betsy and her results, and she is willing to talk to you, then try asking her a question: E.g., “Betsy, have you had a chance to check your exam results? And if you have – how are you feeling about them?”

3.     DISCOVER FEELINGS.  What’s so interesting about a fact?  So, even if Betsy comes right out and tells you her exam results, so what? What matters both to Betsy and you is how she feels about them – right? So let her know you care about her by asking how she is feeling. You’ll see both the examples above already include a feelings element.  This might be new for you – but it’s a real key to improving the quality of your conversations. E.g., “Wow Betsy! You rocked your Level 2 English; I’ll bet you feel confident moving forward into Year 13 with that subject. How do you feel about your Biology scores?”

4.     IDENTIFY NEEDS. Even though you want to communicate to your teen that he or she is the capable captain of his or her ship, you also want to show you are on their team. We all have needs, and learning how to identify and meet our needs more or less effectively is a life-long journey. So – model this with your teen. E.g., “Betsy, I know you’ve been hoping to go on to University. Given these scores, what do you think you need right now to keep your goal a possibility?

5.     LISTEN. This is the key to everything. Listening means being quiet and…. listening! Listening does not mean you are agreeing or endorsing what you hear. It simply means you are keen to understand your teen (or whomever you’re listening to). Lean forward. Nod encouragement. Try not to react to what you hear. Ask clarifying questions if you are not clear about something, but be aware of how you ask – your whole heart and self  needs to communicate that it is important for you to fully understand your teen. If possible, try and sum up what you’ve heard. E.g., “So Betsy, if I understand you correctly, you feel on track with everything except your biology. You still want to go on to University but you realize these results might slow you down by a whole year. What you most need is help with the sciences and you’d love for us to talk about how to afford a good science tutor this year?”


(Remember, you can always have conversation do-overs if one heads south.)

If you have any specific questions about how to talk with your particular teen, please do not hesitate to drop me an email. I always respond!