Time Stamps for “Listening Part 2: Setting Positive Intentions, Emptying Your Cup, And Talking To An Empty Chair”
1:45— Establishing Respect And Love
4:39— “Sting Like A Bee”
8:48— “They’re Trying To Hide Something From You…”
10:55— The Pre-Determined Evaluation
13:18— Process Out The Emotion
16:38— Dealing With Emotionally Charged Situations
19:04— Neutralizing The Charge
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And as I listen to my clients, I hear a lot of the same things like yeah, I mean I can tell anything to my spouse but me and my daughter, I don’t know if I can talk to my daughter. Last night I was talking to a guy who said I’m really having a hard time talking to my mom and my brother because of some things that have happened and so, you know, I look at that and there’s a high desire I think to connect but maybe a low level unsafe. What about you, Christian? How would you define listening?
Christian: One of the things that you’re talking about is building a rapport and establishing a relationship of trust. Without that relationship of trust, an individual is not going to feel comfortable or confident that what you’re going to say is actually going to be heard. Part of the safety is that that information is not going to at some later point be used as personal to attack them.
Christian: Use their story as a means to undermine who they are and so what you’re really trying to do in creating that safety, how do you create that safety is that you are establishing respect and love and respect and love ultimately they disarm any and all hostility.
Christian: You know, and part of that process through genuine and that’s the unconditional love and acceptance, the unconditional positive regard. You are who you are and I accept you. That doesn’t mean that I accept all of your faulty behaviors. Maybe you’re doing something that is really destructive and I’m going to listen to you and I’m going to establish this rapport and I’m going to let you know that I respect and love you but I’m also going to communicate with you at some point that what you’re doing right now is ultimately it’s damaging you, it’s damaging us but you also used a really powerful word earlier and that is to receive.
Christian: And part of the reception is literally being willing to as you said sit down and to be present. Now, one of the things that I find really, really important in the listening skills is to appreciate the individual. So you need to receive the individual. You need to receive the message. You also need to appreciate what is being spoken and as you are expressing your appreciation for example, one of my sayings that I usually use is I really appreciate you sharing that with me or you know, thank you so much for giving me that bit of information because that helps me better understand where you were coming from.
Christian: Even if you just use those two phrases, you’re going to radically alter your experience in that conversation.
Christian: The person is going to feel like they have been hurt, you know, so part of listening is genuinely appreciating the person and the situation or the circumstances as well as the message that is being communicated or being shared.
William: You know, you brought up something that’s really interesting. So if we’re talking about, you know, the what. We haven’t really taken in and deep dive into how yet but if we look at the what of listening, you bring up a good point, you know, what is listening? Listening is not only something that you do. It has a lot to do with who you are as a person and this really came to me strongly as you were just talking and, you know, I’m thinking about the process of rapport. Rapport has a short term technique that can be used but for a long term rapport, it has a lot to do with your character.
William: Am I the kind of person that you can trust? I’m going to say something that’s going to probably going to sting a little bit for some of you. So you ought to probably like put your seatbelt on and like brace yourself a little bit.
Christian: But what’s that bee sting it has like some kind of a numbing agent to it.
William: Yeah. Right.
Christian: I’ve got mine. Yeah.
William: You’re going to give that your bee suit and you’re going to go into the hive, right? So here we are. I felt like a butterfly but I sting like a bee.
Christian: I’ve got my EpiPen ready. Let’s go.
William: Okay, you’re ready? So if people are not opening up and talking to you, it is not their fault. If people aren’t speaking to you or if you notice that people are pursing their lips, they’re holding back and they’re not sharing with you, it is not them, it’s you.
William: And if your kids won’t talk to you, it’s not their fault. Probably your fault, right? If your wife or your husband or your boyfriend or girlfriend is not talking to you the way that you like, it has a lot to do with you. It has a lot – and that may have something to do with your track record in listening and being willing to receive. Are you really willing to receive what it is that they have to say even if it’s not what you want to hear.
William: That is an incredibly powerful. So a couple of things, one, as an undergraduate student one of my professors probably one of the most if not the most influential professors that I’ve ever had are super cool, long hair, tattoos all over the place, biggest beard and if you were to look at him you’d be like, I’m going to go to the other side of sidewalk and yet he was also one of the most authentic, genuine therapist in the area and he had true concern and love for everybody that he came in contact with and what he had said, somebody had asked them, you know, how do you turn off your counseling skills when you go home? And he says, you can’t. I am by nature a therapist. That’s not just something I can turn on and turn off. I am always on. So it doesn’t matter if I’m at work in the office or if I’m at a picnic or if I’m at home. It doesn’t matter. It’s who I am. It’s his character and that’s something that I have tried to incorporate into my life and so a real life experience.
Christian: I think especially if you think about a therapist as an influence or maybe you’re not going to be a therapist at the picnic, you know, therapizing or shrinking but you’re going to be sitting there listening, helping, nudging, steering, guiding, right? Offering support and again, you know, wherever you are the way that I think about this is that I am influencing people all the time. In every conversation, in every thought, in every place that I go, I am out influencing and am I wielding that influence in a helpful way or in a way that’s harming and that has a lot to do with the way that I listen and there have been times when I’ve done that more effectively and less effectively and there’s people that are easier for me to listen to in order for me to listen to you and that has a lot more to do with me than it does with them. It really does.
William: So I won’t get into the details but I just remember this drive when we were in South Africa about a year and a half ago.
William: We were talking about different individuals who are easier to listen to and others who are more difficult to listen to and the conversation that took place in the car was pretty entertaining. I was concerned about your safety and I’m glad that you’re still alive.
Christian: Thank you.
William: That your mother and your wife and my wife or your sister did not harm your physical well being. I don’t remember – I actually – you have to tell me offline because I don’t remember what I said and definitely it was entertaining.
Christian: Oh yeah, I was listening. I was listening at that time. I was listening to not only the words that were being spoken but I was also listening to the behaviors of the eyes that were glancing, that were going back and forth between your mother and your wife and your sister but in any care so a real experience say and this really touches on what you were just speaking to in regards to if somebody is not speaking, why are they not? I mean I don’t want to just say a hundred percent it’s your fault. I would say that if somebody is not talking to you, you are playing a huge key role to it.
Christian: But I also think that sometimes an individual may not be speaking to you because they’re trying to hide something from you.
Christian: But regarding that other point so let me go back. Back in December my mother had a series of medical complications and as a result, she almost died and it was really, really difficult. As of right now she has far exceeded any and all of the medical expectations and the prognosis that the experts had said, you know, they said that she would never really speak again. She would never use her left arm. She would never be able to stand on her own and she’s doing all of these things.
Christian: So I’m just really grateful for the miracle that she has but last night we had a conference call with the social worker and my mother and there were a number of other family members that were present. It was really interesting because there has been a relationship of untrust or distrust or mistrust whichever is the right word to use.
William: Probably all of them.
Christian: Yeah, right. And there’s a reason why they are different words because each one of them carries a different meaning or implication, right?
Christian: So you’re right, all of them. The meeting lasted for about an hour and a half and I’m looking at the list. I have my notebook of all of the questions and concerns that I really wanted to ask but it was not a safe environment and as a result afterwards how I described it is I feel like I just drank a tall glass of super sugary lemonade, yeah. Part of me was satisfied but I left with a lot more questions and concerns that I had and so ultimately at the end there were a couple of questions and concerns that I did raise and I had honestly, it was a genuine concern. It’s not like I was trying to vilify or you know, demonize anybody. It was here’s a concern and I would like to have these questions addressed and I just felt like as soon as I asked those questions it was just immediately the temperature in the room just peaked. What I really learned from that is that the individual who I’m considering here in this particular situation came into this meeting with a predetermined evaluation or assessment of anything that I may say or I may ask. So if I ask anything, it’s because I am trying to undermine the situation or I’m trying to take control. So when you enter part of listening is really, I think the biggest part of listening takes place before the actual conversation takes place. You have to set your intention before. What is your intention? What do you want to do? And so your judgments in advance are going to influence what you’re hearing so if you have this judgment that this person is out to get me then anything and everything that person says guess what?
William: It’s all colored by then, right?
Christian: Oh it’s totally colored by then. It’s going to do that. So one of the practices that I work with individuals is to set your intentions in a positive way. So what do I mean by that? Especially when we’re trying to focus on the skills of listening, it’s my intention is I want to understand you. I want to be able to create a healthy and safe environment where you feel comfortable and confident enough to share with me what is on your mind and what is going on in your life and my role is not to immediately come out and say, well, hold on a second. You were wrong here and you were wrong there and of course you ended up in the ditch because you drank too much last night. So my whole intention is understand and when you enter into a conversation with that intention in mind, I want to understand you. You’re going to come away from that understanding.
Christian: So first seek to understand and then to be understood.
William: Yeah. That’s just beautifully stated. I just got back from teaching a two-day workshop on establishing rapport and there were a little bit other stuff but mainly it was establishing rapports that I talk for workshop on. I spent about a day and a half talking about listening skills and the way that I currently think about listening skills is I organize them into four phases. First phase is what I call dump your cup. If you’ve got – if your cup is running and this is what we’ve been talking about for the last few minutes. If your cup is running over with judgments, with opinions, with anger, with hostility, with some sort of massive emotional build up before you can really effectively listen, if you can, if time allows and most of the time it does, do what you need to do to process out the emotion so that you can actually be present because if not what happens is that you’re so emotionally charged that you’re like an electric fence and when the other person comes up to reach out with their tender little heartstrings [making noises] because you got all this inside of you even if you’re just bottling it up. I mean how many of you have talked to somebody who didn’t really say anything but like their eyes were electrocuting you, right? I mean, right? I mean you see their eyes like squint down or their jaw locks down or the body gets all tight and you can tell that they’re not in receiving mode and that’s because maybe they got triggered or there’s something inside that’s unresolved energy. It’s why Christian and I had a conversation earlier this week where I needed to go in a sensitive conversation. I still had a lot of charge around it and I needed the value of Christian’s expertise to know, okay, is this too early to talk or not? And I actually decided just to give it a few days in between responding because I was not in a place where my cup was complete. Today, I am. Today I could actually hold that conversation and I’d be in a really good place to be able to listen. So if you’ve got a relationship that’s strained, what you got to do to be able to lower the energy so that you can actually be in place of both sending and receiving in a way that’s calm. Now, I have a couple of ideas about how to do that because some of you like, I don’t know how to do that well and the reality is that we could bend a number of shows just talking about how to do that but let me give you two techniques that have been really useful for me.
One is the technique of journaling. So if I have a really sensitive conversation and if I find that my emotions are really highly charged, I’m going to spend time actually writing every thing out until this energy starts to drop on the conversation and that might not only be in one day. That might be over period base. For me and for many of my clients, the process of journaling gets all the spinning that’s going on in your head and it puts it on paper once you can step back and look at it, it tends to really bring emotional charge down.
There’s a second technique that I think is especially useful. It’s an old technique that comes from the empty chair tradition which I think was first developed by Fritz Pearls although I don’t know maybe Pearls learned it from somebody before him but in the empty chair technique or in the variant of the empty chair technique that I’ll teach you, basically what you do is you sit down across from an empty chair. You imagine that the person that you want to talk to is there in front of you and once you can imagine them in your mind, I’d like to start by asking permission. Like is it okay if I share some things that are in my mind and my heart? Now, some of you are saying, well, that’s crazy. It’s just an image in your head. Okay, that’s fine. You can do it another way. That’s just the way it’s been helpful for me. So I sit there and once I get buy in from those image that’s in my mind, if some people don’t visualize that well maybe it’s more of like a feeling that that person is there. Once I get the [inaudible] talk then I go in and I say everything and the cool thing about this is I don’t have to be so careful about the way I say it, right? If it’s on my heart or my mind I can just launch right in and say whatever is there and I don’t tiptoe around this. I speak as if they were there. I speak with energy. I speak with whatever energy is in me. I want to move it out of me and I’ll speak for as long as I feel like I got something to say and some of you think man I’d speak for hours. Probably not. I’d been really emotionally charged and within ten or fifteen minutes there’s nothing more to say. It’s like, okay, I’ve said it all and that’s phase two. So phase one is set up the chair, invite them there, you know, and whether that’s your subconscious mind or if you’re, you know, you think it’s more of an energetic thing, whatever, that’s fine. Just invite them there. Once you get a yes, start speaking, speak it all out. Don’t hold anything back. Don’t edit. Just get it out of you and then once it’s done I like to do two more things. I like to look at the other person in the eye and say, listen, there’s been tension in our relationship and I’m not necessarily saying that I condone what’s going on here. But I don’t want to hold on to the energy either. So I am willing to forgive you for this situation and you know, we just got them talking about forgiveness in the show but, you know, forgiveness is letting go. It’s not condoning. So this is all [inaudible] oh yeah, you know, I’m ready to just let this go. So I forgive this because it’s not good for me to hold on to this energy. So I forgive you and then I also like to turn around and ask the other person for forgiveness here I am, I’m sitting across from an empty chair. I see the person in my mind and I say, I forgive you. Do you forgive me for holding on to all this anger and negativity or whatever happens to me? And you know, sometimes my subconscious mind says yes and sometimes it says no but either way I’ve asked interestingly enough this process will almost always radically drop the level of emotional tension that’s in a conversation. I might not drop it in the other person but it drops it in me and then when I show up to have the conversation, I’m not saying it for the first time. I don’t have – I’ve let go of the anger. I’ve let go of the sadness or the difficulty. Now, I’ve had important conversation that I needed to have or I’ve had to do that rehearsal of kind of getting it all out or doing the empty chair technique four or five times before I was emotionally level and clear. Each time the energy level would drop. Each time it would drop a little more but there were still a little something inside and so it took me three or four days to completely process it out or maybe I just did a combination of journaling in empty chair. Now, I’m a busy guy so sometimes I’ll do this in my car while I’m driving. I’ll just invite them in the passenger seat and I’m sitting there, you know, somebody drove by and they’d see me like, you know, wildly, you know, gesturing and speaking, you know, speaking [inaudible] if you’ve ever seen me on the freeway and I’m doing that you’ll know exactly what’s going on. But you had something to say too Christian.
Christian: Oh no, I was just going to say, I mean, you’re talking about softening the charge, right? Or neutralizing the charge but that doesn’t – that’s different from being numb.
William: Right. Very different.
Christian: You’re still very emotionally present. It’s not like okay, now I’m emotionally dead. It’s just it now no longer carries the intense charge.
William: Now I’m not going to enter into the conversation and my body is not going to be rigid and my jaw is not going to clinched and I’m not going to be like shooting laser beams out of my eyes. All of which will create[?] environment which is not safe for the other person to speak and so again phase one in listening really happens just like you said it happens before the conversation ever happened. It is emptying your cup of the emotions and the thoughts so that when you’re there you can just be present. So that you’re not coming in colored by anger or colored by sadness or colored by grief or colored by some prejudice but I’m just showing up now and I am in a good space to listen. Now, phase two, phase two of listening has to do with creating a good emotional state inside of your mind and body. And so you know, what are the emotional states that are congruent with good listening. Number one, I am fully present. I am mindful. I’m in my body. I am aware of the present moment. I am right here, right now and I am connected to you. I am connected to the situation and I’m here so I’m present. I’m present and aware. The second one is I want to generally create a feeling of connection between me and the other person. So it’s a feeling of literally feeling a connection and depending on the relationship I have with this person that type of connection is going to be real different but it should be a type of connection at the very minimum that says, I am willing to both send and receive and depending on who I’m talking to, I may want other things that are maybe compassion that needs to be there. There may need to be patience or there may need to be kindness or gentleness that’s all wrapped up and then that’s the attitude that also goes in and I believe that that also happens ideally before you enter into the conversation. If you’re trying to create it after the conversation is under way, it’s much, much more difficult. Now the third phase, the third phase of listening I think is the attitude that you just describe and that is I am going to diagnose before I prescribe. I’m going to understand before I seek to be understood and I really want to listen to understand. Now listening to understand is different than listening to respond and it’s different than listening to agree before I seek to influence, I want to make sure that I have fully heard the other person out, that I’ve got everything that’s on their mind, in their heart before I speak. I’ll make a bold statement, that one attitude will beat these three preparatory phases, emptying your cup, preparing your emotional state and getting your attitude right will have more to do with your efficacy as a listener than any technique that you employ because if you employ a listening technique and it is not grounded in a good emotional state and a good attitude, the person will feel as if you’re manipulating them. People who don’t like to be manipulated.