Wednesday, November 15, 2006

“Just” listening no more…

The following blog is from our colleague, Meg Gaines, founding director of the Center for Patient Partnerships at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Meg is a fellow educator of advocates--graduate students from the many graduate and professional schools at U Wisc who take courses in patient advocacy and learn to be advocates in a supervised clinical program that serves patients and family in need. These thoughts about listening have become crystalized for Meg as she and her colleagues plan a new training program in patient advocacy for lay breast cancer advocates in the community. They seemed useful for all of us who work on our listening skills in order to hear, and thus to serve.

Words are so powerful – even little, qualifying words like “just.” Over the last few years, I have often asked students and colleagues what they did for a particular client only to hear them reply that they “just listened.” As if listening to someone is somehow minimal. As if listening to someone is anything less than an act of profound honor and respect. As if listening isn’t one of the most difficult things to do well. There’s nothing “just” about truly listening.

Listening requires me to set aside my own agenda. It necessitates that I suspend my judgments – sometimes dozens of them in a matter of minutes. I am called upon to put down my pen, turn away from my list of things to do, take my eye off my watch, forget about all the conversations I am reminded of as this person tells this story, fend off my overactive brain’s constant suggestions of what I would do if I were faced with this dilemma. Listening requires active focus. It requires me to step entirely outside of myself and take in what is being said in relation to the speaker – not in relation to me. Listening is hard work.

I suspect that “just listening” derives from the kind of self-focused, I-can’t-wait-until-she’s-done-talking-so-I-can-tell-her-my-story-which-is-much-more-amazing-than-hers sort of interactions that I, at least, have more of than I like.

Real listening happens when I slow down enough to set my life aside for a moment and notice, honor and accept another being into the space in front of me. It is work right up until I let go of me and settle into another. Then, it is peaceful and rejuvenating – it is that profoundly precious gift that comes from giving.

Take a moment sometime soon to set your self aside and listen deeply to someone else. Stay with it, even as your mind wanders through Judgment Junction and Suggestion Swamp, redirect it gently to the miracle life force placing this profound trust in you. Try to hear, see and absorb the significance of the words to their speaker. There is nothing “just” about this listening.


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11:44 AM  

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