Creating fulfilling relationships

Listening Options that Support Connection and Emotional Regulation

This blog post is practice number 2 from chapter 7 of my book.

1. Content Reflection

Content Reflection helps us organize our thoughts, especially when we are on the edge of new insights or ideas. Furthermore, receiving content reflection helps us trust that the listener is paying attention and attempting to understand us, both of which add to connection and to resolving conflict.

  1. Speaker. Share a few sentences then pause (or listener interrupts speaker. See Practice 6 for a process on connected interrupting).
  2. Listener. When there is a pause or after connected interrupting, say back what you just heard from the speaker (as much as you remember) without adding new ideas, questions, information, etc. You are not trying to say it in a different way or with different words. Use the same words the speaker used, as much as possible.
  3. Listener: Finish with, “Is that it? Did I miss anything?” If you think you missed something, simply say, “I think I missed something. Did I?”
  4. Speaker: Fill in missing pieces or share what is alive now, or both.
  5. Listener: Hold your advice, questions, and other responses to the end. When the speaker has no more to share, ask if they would like to hear your advice, questions, etc., if you have any to offer.

2. Traditional NVC Empathy

Classic NVC Empathy involves listening for feelings and needs and then reflecting them back to the speaker when it is helpful to do so (setting aside advice, story-telling and other non-empathy responses). Sometimes empathy is done in silence because verbal reflection is not needed or wanted. Classic NVC empathy can be helpful for regulating emotions, increasing connection, gaining insight, and de-escalating arguments.

  1. Speaker: Share a few sentences then pause (or listener interrupts).
  2. Listener: When there is a pause or after connected interrupting, offer your feelings and needs guesses to the speaker, “are you feeling _____ because you need _____ ?”
  3. Speaker: Take the listener’s feelings and needs guesses in, let them know if they’re accurate or not, and then continue sharing.
  4. Listener: Continue offering feelings and needs guesses until the speaker is complete or until you are no longer able to continue. Hold your advice, questions, and other responses to the end. When the speaker has no more to share, ask if they would like to hear your advice, questions, etc., if you have any to offer.

3. Resonant Empathy

Resonant Empathy builds on Traditional NVC Empathy by adding the body language, energy, tone of voice and metaphors that resonate with the speaker’s right hemisphere. Resonance can also be added to content reflection, somatic based empathy, and other processes and types of listening.

4. Somatic-Based Empathy (Very helpful for deepth or Therapeutic Empathy)

Somatic-based empathy adds more support for the right hemisphere by guiding your attention into your body.

  1. Speaker: Share a few sentences then pause (or listener interrupt).
  2. Listener: When there is a pause or after connected interrupting, invite the speaker to tell you the sensations they notice in their body.
  3. Speaker: If you feel comfortable doing so, tell the listener what you notice in your body, even if it is very subtle. If you have trouble finding sensations, tell the listener about the quality or length of your breath, about how soft or rigid your stomach feels, about whether your lower jaw is hanging loose or closed tight.
  4. Listener: Ask the speaker what emotions they notice in the sensations, or offer a guess about what emotions might be there.
  5. Listener: After emotions are named, offer needs guesses. If you have a hard time making a needs guess, ask the speaker if they have a guess about their need or needs.

Often the speaker will share more about their situation after hearing needs guesses, which takes you back to Step 1. Continue cycling through the steps until you are complete. Sometimes there is space to check in with the body after a need guess, to see how the guess lands before going back to Step 1. Either way is fine.

5. Metaphors

Because the right hemisphere processes images and metaphors, using metaphors is another way to bring resonance to the right hemisphere and add to its regulation.

Before offering a metaphor reflection of the speaker’s needs, you can offer a metaphor based on what their experience is like. If someone tells you how stressed they are at work due to the number of tasks and the level of responsibility, your metaphor guess could be, “Is it like you’re trying to steer a ship while plotting a course and maintaining the engine room and galley at the same time?” Deepening the sense of being understood is supportive because being understood for how difficult or painful something is helps soothe emotions.

Next, instead of making a needs guess—do you need ease and support—you can offer a metaphor for the needs, “are you longing for a harbour with a seasoned crew waiting on the dock?”

Metaphors can be included in somatic-based empathy and resonant empathy.

Metaphors may not always land as accurate for the speaker. If they don’t, let them go and try another or see if they have a metaphor that works better.

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