The Mission of PAIRS is to
teach those attitudes, emotional understandings and
behaviors that nurture and sustain healthy relationships
and to make this knowledge broadly available on behalf
of a safer, saner, more loving world.
Shared Meaning Exercise for Becoming a Great Listener
Introduction to Becoming a Great Listener
“One thing I believe is true about me that you probably don't know.”
Here's an opportunity to practice shared meaning with a loved one.
- Begin by sitting across from each other in a way in which you have close eye, knee and hand contact and are free of anything that could distract you from each other.
- The speaker says what they have to say in pieces short enough so that you can repeat each piece back without adding anything, changing anything, or responding in any way other than to speak words that show you fully understand what the speaker expressed.
- If what you repeat back is correct, the speaker will acknowledge that and go on.
- If it is not correct, or not what the speaker meant, the speaker will restate what they said, and you will reflect it back again.
- Repeat these steps until the speaker feels understood.
- Then the speaker thanks the listener with a physical gesture, such as a warm embrace.
Use as your topic: “One thing I believe is true about me that you probably don't know.” Especially as you're learning, be sure to choose something that isn't threatening for the listener.
Several guidelines make the Shared Meaning Process work better.
- When you are the speaker, be clear and concise, and say only a short paragraph or sentence before letting the listener echo back. If you get confused about what you are trying to say, take a quiet moment to stop, look inside and get clear with yourself what message you want the listener to receive. If the listener asks you to repeat what you said, repeat it as exactly as possible; don't change what you said in the process of repeating it.
- If you are the listener and the speaker says too much for you to remember, say so. The listener should use words similar to those of the speaker. Using your own words for what you think the speaker is saying is called translation, and may leave the speaker feeling that what you repeat back is not quite what was said or meant. If you don't hear the speaker, perhaps because your own thoughts or feelings intrude, ask them to repeat what was said. When the speaker is finished with all they have to say, show empathy for what you hear. Validate in a statement that you understand your partner's feelings, for example, "I can understand that … I can see that … It makes sense to me that…"
- At first this process can feel slow and cumbersome to people used to conversations that move quickly from one topic to another, and where each partner fills in what is not said from their past experience. But when we are under stress, because feelings are high or self-worth is low, this process is a good one to keep us on track. It requires the speaker to be clear, and stops the listener from running through their own thoughts while the speaker is talking. The usual result of this process is that the speaker feels truly understood, and the listener often hears and learns something they didn't previously know.
- When you have finished thank your partner for listening, "Thank you for listening to me talk about __________. I feel that you were really listening." Touch their hand, embrace them, or some other physical contact. Then change roles and let the listener become the speaker.
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