Why Does Listening Help?

>> Friday

LISTENING HELPS. If you've ever been upset or had a problem and talked it over with a good listener, you know you end up clearer-headed and emotionally stronger. Why? What is it about listening that helps? The researcher, Brant Burleson has done a lifetime's worth of research on listening. He has discovered what kind of listening helps, and what doesn't (read more about that here). And he also has some ideas about why listening works.

Burleson thinks one of the main reasons good listening helps a person feel less upset is it gives your mate a chance to think about her situation differently. There are basically two ways to help someone with a problem: Actually help her solve the problem, or help her interpret her problem differently (so the problem, even though it hasn't changed, becomes less upsetting because of the new interpretation).

By following the findings above, your mate is able to talk openly about the problem and her feelings about it, making it easier for her to think about it (because you aren't interrupting, you're making her feel okay about talking about it, you're not trying to control her expression, etc.).

Because you're listening, as she struggles to tell you about her situation and her feelings about it, she understands the situation better. She's able to start making sense of it.

As she thinks about it without any persuasive efforts on your part, she can begin to change her mind about some of the conclusions she originally jumped to. She begins to change how she interprets her situation. When she changes her interpretation, her feelings will change.

As she calms down, her thoughts become even more rational and practical, and her understanding of her problem improves even more, and her understanding evolves toward something more constructive than her first take on it.

The kind of conversation that really helps has three main characteristics:

1. Safe environment. You make a safe place to talk. You let her know you accept and have affection for her, and that you care about her, and that your intentions are good. You encourage her expressions of her feelings and then encourage her to go into detail about them, never invalidating any of her feelings, always helping her know it is safe for her to speak honestly. And you keep the environment conducive to communication by minimizing interruptions and distractions.

2. Encourage feelings. You encourage her to talk about her emotions. You keep an ear out for any expressions of emotions she has about the problem, and then follow up on every one of them, helping those feelings come out in the open and inviting her to express the emotions in detail — not for any therapeutic-venting purposes (which research has shown to be ineffective), but to help her learn what her real feelings are about the situation. You ask questions about the problem and her feelings and the way she is interpreting the situation, and you assure her it is okay to talk about her feelings.

3. Get the whole story. You encourage her to talk at length. Most conversations are two-way, with each person taking a turn, more or less equally. But you can help a person more by helping her get a longer turn, asking good questions, and then more questions about the answers she gave you. You let her know you want to hear the full story — you don't want her to make a long story short. You encourage her to go on. You don't interrupt. You don't let the conversation get sidetracked by you talking too much. You avoid giving advice. You avoid evaluating the situation or interpreting it for her, because that stops her from talking. You try to extend the narration, not cut it off.

Sometimes you can help your friend deal with the problem itself, but that best comes after she has had time to fully express it and after she asks you for advice. Then you can help through brainstorming or discussing possible solutions to the problem and alternatives and the consequences, actually taking some actions that help, etc. Any information and opinions you have about the problem should always be given in a way that never makes her feel wrong or not enough. Never communicate advice in a way that comes across commanding, domineering, or holier-than-thou.

You truly want to help your mate, and if you do the things that work and avoid the things that don't, you will help her. Your mate will become less upset and she will be able to figure out good solutions to her problems. You may not get any glory because she probably won't even notice how skillfully you've helped her, but you will know in your heart you've done some good, and that is reward enough.

Learn more about how to be a good listener.


Raise Your Mood With An Easy Question

I SOMETIMES get discouraged in this publishing business. Like any other business, it has its ups and downs, and sometimes my emotions go up and down with it. My wife, Klassy Evans, gave me a very simple suggestion awhile back that really helps. She said, "Whenever you feel discouraged, think of something you're grateful for."

I've done it many times now, and every time it is surprisingly easy to think of something I'm grateful for, and it makes me feel better every time.

I've read the studies on gratitude, but I've always thought of it as a project. It seems like work. I feel like I "should" sit down and write in a journal for a specified length of time, or try to write down a specified number of things I feel grateful for. That's how they do it in the experiments, but of course that's because it's an experiment. They have to test quantifiable, measurable tasks in an experiment. That doesn't mean I have to.

And as I found out, generating a little gratitude works well on the fly and in my head just as well as it does writing it down in a journal. It's not a chore at all — just a simple question to ask myself. It only takes a few moments (just long enough to think of something). And as soon as I think of something, I feel noticeably better.

I've found that if the first thing I think of doesn't raise my mood enough, I can easily ask myself what else I'm grateful for.

You and I naturally have our attention on our goals and what we'd like to attain in the future, and the mind naturally compares our goals to what we have now. It compares what we have with what we want to have. That's motivating sometimes, but it can also make you feel demoralized or frustrated.

It is equally legitimate — and ought to get equal billing — to think about what you have (compared to others or compared to your past), or what you have gained, or what you are just plain glad about.

Try it the next time you feel discouraged or frustrated. Ask yourself, "What one thing am I grateful for?" And see what happens. It's a simple, all-purpose moodraiser you can keep in your back pocket and use the hell out of.

When you do, you'll be happier.

Learn more about how comparisons alter how you feel: Change The Way You Feel By Changing One Simple Thing You Already Do In Your Mind.


How to Feel Good With an Unreasonable Thought

>> Sunday

I AM NOT A DEVOTEE of yoga, but I was reading something Swami Satchidananda (the dude in the throne here) said and it struck me as interesting and potentially useful for those of us who want to feel good more often.

If you have no other basis for knowledge (as you wouldn't a few thousand years ago when yoga was invented), what would be the sanest criteria for what to believe? Whatever makes you feel better or get more done, right? If it leads to a better mood, let us declare it true. If it leads to sadness, anger, or fear, let us declare it false.

Even today, that's not a bad criteria for judging the merit of a proposition. Of course, now it's probably not a good idea to use that as the only criteria. It should also (and most importantly) be tested against real evidence.

But if it doesn't contradict any scientific knowledge, and if it doesn't hurt anyone or yourself, and it leads to a better emotional state, what would be the harm in accepting it (assuming you're not going to then make war against those who don't accept it)?

Here's what Satchidananda wrote that got me thinking: "You are not even breathing by yourself. Try stopping the air coming into the lungs again for awhile. No, it is being forced into you. That means, Somebody is interested in keeping you alive, to do Somebody's job. So you are living to serve."

That's a different way of looking at things, isn't it? It really doesn't contradict anything known in science. A scientist may explain the phenomenon differently, but this doesn't contradict it, and the point of view doesn't hurt anyone.

And it may lead to better moods more often to think that the great Ocean (of which we are all a wave) is making you breathe, keeping you alive to fulfill its mission.

I think if you consider that just entertain the idea as a possibility you will feel yourself relax. You will feel better.

It's kind of a silly belief, and you don't have to become a believer or try to get others to believe it. That wouldn't help you feel good anyway.

But to think of it that way, even once in awhile, leads to a feeling of calm and open contentment, and that's definitely worth something. What do you think?



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