Establishing excellent relationships requires the capacity to sincerely listen and understand; to genuinely appreciate and to communicate well. As you suspend your judgement and deepen your interest whilst listening to the other person, you will deepen rapport, understanding and improve your relationships. When suspending judgment, you can open yourself to the object of your observation. This allows perceived impressions to resonate within you, creating thoughts, feelings and images, which rise within you as an inner response. The insights achieved through this mode of perception will be deeper, more intuitive and therefore more in tune with the object of observation.
Extending your perception to develop an intuitive understanding of your surroundings, both human and non-human, will considerably reduce stress, enhancing your health and your vitality, and can create a deep sense of joy and a sense of connectedness with life. Acknowledging how strongly our encounter of the world is affected by more or less conscious judgments and biases that have developed as result of our past experiences, is the first step of this process towards overcoming them.
Anybody who attempts listening to somebody, who for example has a different world view or political opinion, knows how difficult it is, to bring the inner judge within us to silence. In fact, when starting to practice the exercise, it requires considerable energy to actively suppress any surfacing judgements and to enter a process of pure and active listening.
This process of active listening will only allow the thoughts, feelings, and intentions of the other person into our consciousness, without being interrupted by our own thoughts, feelings and intentions. An act of wilful selflessness is required for moments of listening; the capacity to let go of one’s own thoughts, feelings and intentions in order to become one with the consciousness of the other person; to ‘walk in their moccasins’ and to see the world through the eyes of another person. Any honest and truthful effort on this path trains our capacity to love and to develop intuition.
The activity that is asked for is one of encountering the other person in a child-like way, full of burning interest and awe. I imagine what it would mean for our relationships, if we could maintain this deep sense of interest, curiosity and devotion even for those people we ‘know’ already for a long time: Experiencing many encounters with our partners, relatives and friends, as if we meet them for the first time.
Here are three steps or levels of this process:
Being ‘open-minded’ by actively suspending judgment is the first step on this path towards keeping our relationships essential and alive.
Being ‘open-hearted’ allows the warmth of compassion, gratitude, and love to enter the relationship.
Being ‘open-willing’ allows us to perceive the developmental needs of the other person and how we can contribute towards furthering the latter. Our inner strength and goodness develop as we put the deeper needs of the other person above our own and act accordingly. Otto Scharmer refers to these three ‘open’ qualities, when he describes that we need to transcend our ‘ego-system’ to find solutions to the most burning questions of our time.
Active listening, with an open mind, open heart and open will is truly transformative for both, the listener, and the person, who is perceived and received in that way. It is one of the essential elements of any deeper therapeutic processes, also described as ‘empathy’.
Carl Rogers, a humanistic psychotherapist, and his pupils, identified this process as the core element of any therapeutic transformation.
Rogers asserts that empathy helps clients
(1) pay attention and value their experiencing;
(2) see earlier experiences in new ways;
(3) modify their perceptions of themselves, others, and the world; and
(4) increase their confidence in making choices and pursuing a course of action.
Jeanne Watson (2002) states that 60 years of research has consistently demonstrated that empathy is the most powerful determinant of client progress in therapy. She puts it this way: “Therapists need to be able to be responsively attuned to their clients and to understand them emotionally as well as cognitively. When empathy is operating on all three levels – interpersonal, cognitive, and affective – it is one of the most powerful tools therapists have at their disposal.”
As we will see, the active listening process, which we indicate here, does not listen only for the content that is being expressed, but also intends to perceive the emotions, feelings, and intentions, as well as authenticity and alignment of thinking, feeling and willing of the other person. This is initially not an act of interpretation, but an act of pure, intentional perception. And it includes not just the understanding of concepts, but also the perceptions of non-verbal elements, such as pitch, volume and flow of voice and expression through posture gesture and mimic.
Every conversation should live in the dual ‘rhythmic’ process of i
That’s why we won’t abolish judgement, but rather suspend it.
Instead of multi-tasking and processing information whilst receiving it, we separate these processes and intentionally practice one activity at the time.
In usual conversations, we may listen, and at the same time remembering past experiences, analysing what it all means for us and working out, how we can utilise the new information in the future.
Nobody is good in multi-tasking and in fact instead of multitasking our mind usually serial tasks, which means it constantly switches from one activity to the other.
If this switching is not slowed down considerably then none of these activities is performed particularly well. Imagine you had to listen to a talk and answer an email simultaneously, how this multitasking would influence the quality of both activities.
Putting undivided attention onto the listening process before processing the information gives strength and depth to each of these activities. You will intuit the other person profoundly, creating a much deeper connection, insight and rapport.
This potentially transforms our human encounters into therapeutic processes and acts of love.
Find below the steps of this exercise.
In daily life you may pick the conversations that are suitable to practice active listening.
The duration of listening with undivided attention may vary depending on the situation and the current level of skill. (30 seconds up to five minutes).
Give yourself time to let the experience reverberate within you and to form your judgements (after you listened with undivided attention).
In my years of experience as a GP and clinical specialist I have experienced again and again how powerfully transformative this active listening can be for myself and the person I am actively listening to never mind the original purpose of the consultation. It builds the necessary trust, rapport, and transformative relationship. And I also experience the positive effect in my personal relationship, whenever I practice this exercise.
Otto Scharmer and Katrin Kaufer (2013). Leading from the Emerging Future: From Ego-System to Eco-System Economies. Berrett-Koehler Publishers Inc
Watson, J. C. (2002). Re-visioning empathy. In D. J. Cain (Ed.), Humanistic psychotherapies: Handbook of research and practice (pp. 445-471). American Psychological Association, Washington, DC
Carl R. Rogers (1994): Person to Person: The Problem of Being Human. Souvenir Press Ltd.