Refining Your Instincts as a Listener

Listening means drawing close to another. But how you draw close makes all the difference with how helpful you are being.

Listening Is an Art

We all posses a version of this art. It’s part of being human. The ability to naturally feel compassion for others and to join them in their hour of need. 

The only problem is that sometimes the desire to join another as a listener can get confusing. And sometimes it can be the opposite of helpful.

This Comes Up in Spoken Work

Whenever you do The Work of Byron Katie in spoken form with a partner, you are in the position of being a listener. The role is one of compassion and understanding, and a natural joining occurs. 

But what exactly are you joining? 

The typical instinct in all of us when someone is suffering is to extend a hand to them, to be there for them, to sympathize, to agree how hard that must be for them. And this is a way of showing love. But it is not always helpful.

Are You Joining in Their Suffering?

The instinct to join can lead to a joining in the suffering of another person. This can mean being overly sympathetic, “Oh that’s terrible! I can’t believe they did that to you!” In this kind of sympathy, you are taking the side of the victim. And in doing so, you reinforce the victim story for the person.

This is not helpful if someone wants to come out of their suffering. When someone wants to do The Work, they are interested in questioning their victim story. So any reinforcement of that story by their facilitator moves them in the opposite direction of where they want to go. 

What If You Join Them, Instead of Their Story?

It’s a just a slight shift in how you join a person when you’re sitting with them in inquiry. Instead of joining with their suffering, and reinforcing their victim story, it is possible to join with the person as a person while gently holding the possibility that their victim story can be challenged.

This requires some subtlety of awareness. There is a distinction between the person and their victim story. When I’m clear, I can hold the person while supporting them to question their story. That is the essence of “holding the space” for someone in inquiry. 

How Do You Improve This Skill?

For me, the single best way to improve this skill of listening while facilitating has been the habit of questioning my thoughts and beliefs about a client after facilitation. 

If I notice that I am getting drawn into their victim story, I can question thoughts like, “I need to take their side,” or “They need my help,” or “They are a victim.” When I question thoughts like this, I come back to a more neutral place.

For example, without the thought, “They are a victim,” I have no need to “help” them. I can see that they are fine, and that they are just believing their story. And then I can be there for them to question that story. 

This is a place of joining with no stickiness. And when i join in this way, I am not pulled into their story. And they do not get their story reinforced. And it leaves room for inquiry to work and pull them out of their story.

This Is a Different Kind of Love

This is not the sympathizing, “I will wallow with you,” kind of love. This is the empowering, “I trust you can find your way out of this” kind of love. And when I’m doing my work, I want this kind of facilitator supporting me. It makes all the difference.

If you want to join us in learning how to question any stressful story, you might like my 9-month online course called “The Work 101 for Busy People.” We do The Work in 10-20 minutes per day over a long period of time. The next course starts Feb 10.

It’s going to be a small course this time, so it’s a great chance for lots of personal attention. Read more and sign up for The Work 101 for Busy People here. Registration closes Feb 7.

Have a great week

“When someone is facilitating The Work, giving the four questions, he’s receiving at another level what I originally received inside me. If he’s really facilitating from a neutral position, without any motive, then he’s in the place where I am on the other side. It just gains in its freedom. It’s in or out: unlimited.” Byron Katie, Question Your Thinking, Change the World.

Further reading: Are You Staying in Inquiry or Drifting Out of It While You Work?