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How to develop better listening skills?
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rohvannyn posted:
It seems that when I listen to someone talking about their problems I either care too much or too little, or don't respond enough or respond too much, or express empathy when it should be sympathy, or vice versa. I've read several articles on active and effective listening, including the one in Dr. Becker-Phelps' blog, but it seems that half the time I get it wrong or cause greater problems.

Part of the issue is empathy versus sympathy. Depending on whom you talk to, one is good, the other bad, and no one agreeing on the seemingly interchangable definitions.

So, any ideas of how I can listen openheartedly to someone who has no one else to talk to, in such a way that I don't seem condescending or patronizing or unfeeling, but at the same time don't get my own feelings hurt too much? The person in question is in a number of no win situatiosn and their problems are far from trivial so I can't just brush them off. But it's plain I need much better listening skills.
Roh

'Your focus determines your reality.' --QGJ
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Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD responded:
Roh, maybe I can help a little with this.

To begin with there is a definite difference between sympathy and empathy. Empathy is being able to see a person's situation through their eyes, including feeling what they feel. Sympathy, however, includes your reaction. You "get" what the other person is feeling and feel sad for their situation. By the way, this is different from pity, which can (but not always) involve a sense of looking down on the person you feel sad for.

Compassion is the experience of having empathy for someone and wanting to help alleviate their distress. It is not enough for you to experience compassion for the other person to be helped. The other person must also experience you as having compassion for them; then that alone is often enough to be of at least some help emotionally.

As for how to help you respond more effectively with your friend, it would be helpful if you can share more about what has happened when you responded and things went badly.
 
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dfromspencer responded:
Hiya Roh,

Yea, what Dr. Leslie said!

Roh, it really would help the rest of us, if we knew a little about what is going on??? You say this person is in a number of no-win situations, but give no details so we can help??? We have no idea as to where to interject the empathy, nor the sympathy, you see?

More info needed, Roh my friend!!!
LIVE LONG, LOVE WELL!!!
 
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rohvannyn replied to dfromspencer's response:
Lately my stress level is so high that I am having trouble with memory and even get confused easily during a conversation. I won't share the problems because I am bound by confidentiality. But I thank you for a more concrete explanation about the difference between empathy and sympathy than I have heard before.
Roh

'Your focus determines your reality.' --QGJ
 
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dfromspencer replied to rohvannyn's response:
Hi Roh,

From the response you gave, I have to believe one of two things. 1, Its you that is not getting any empathy/sympathy? Or 2, Its the other person that feels you are not giving her any empathy/sympathy???

I may be wrong, but aren't these boards/communities supposed to be confidential? Just asking?

Roh, I wish there was some way I could help you, but with no further info, I simply do not know how? I can, however, offer you my empathy/sympathy!!!

Good luck, Roh!!!

Dennis
LIVE LONG, LOVE WELL!!!
 
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rohvannyn replied to dfromspencer's response:
Well, the definition helped. The other person doesn't like the way I respond to her concerns, and that's partly because I get emotionally tired by listening to her problems, because I over personalize, and thus am hurt more than I should be even when hard feelings aren't directed at me but rather the subject. Yes, these communities are supposed to be anonymous but nothing you do on the internet is really private. I appreciate the thoughts though!
Roh

'Your focus determines your reality.' --QGJ
 
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Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD replied to rohvannyn's response:
Roh,

I'm curious to know how knowing these definitions help you.


Also, many people struggle with over personalizing comments from others. So, for example, if a person expresses frustration about a situation, the listener might feel he is being yelled at or that the other person is angry with him. Then the listener responds with hurt and/or anger. For people with this kind of struggle, it is essential that they learn to recognize what they are doing - that they can see themselves personalizing emotions or messages that are not directed at them. Often, they are able to see it only after the situation; but, with practice, they can learn to recognize when they are over-reacting or over-personalizing the situation/communication. The next step is for them to excuse themselves to regain their perspective; and/or to talk with their friend/partner about this struggle and get support for making the separation that they need to make. Different difficulties can arise in working this through (such as not getting the support of your partner), but perhaps this explanation - if it fits - can help you begin the changes you want to make.

Finally, even this little bit that you share here offers some more information about your situation (without compromising confidentiality). Similarly, without giving us more details about the other person, maybe you can explain more about how you respond that the other person doesn't like - or that you find are an issue. This could help others understand your situation better and maybe provide more insight, suggestions, or support.
 
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rohvannyn replied to Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD's response:
The definitions of empathy and sympathy helped to some extent because it allowed me to understand better what other people have suggested to me in the past, as regards active listening skills.

It's pretty tough for me right now to untangle the whole problem and that leads me to oversimplify because I want to be able to say something that is at least understandable. I suppose I will start with something simple and then move on to other things as I untangle them. Keep in mind that this is just a very small part of the issue, but the easiest example I can think of.

Example: She talks about a terrible problem that doesn't have an immediate solution. I start off by thinking "okay self, don't go into problem solving mode, just keep listening." She keeps talking about the problem, exploring all her feelings about it, repeating herself and the different aspects of the problem in attempts to clarify, whether to herself or to me I can't tell. I keep listening, trying to make agreeing noises or at least acknowledging ones.

After a while of this, like fifteen minutes or more, working on the same problem and hearing her going deeper and deeper into her depression (or at least that's what it looks like) I start feeling desperate to get out of the situation, and start taking things personally, and forget that I just promised to listen open mindedly. Then I either start problem solving, or sound dismissive when I shouldn't. Part of the issue is that I run out of caring but brief ways to acknowledge what she is saying, and feel like she is prompting me for an acknowledgement, yet she rejects acknowledgements when they are too complex or if I try to restate what she is saying by way of acknowledgement.

Sad to say, I also get bored after the fourth or fifth iteration, and my attention tends to wander, which she notices immediately. I'm also really bad at remembering to give comforting hugs etc because I don't tend to want them myself.

As complicated as this may be, it's one of the simpler problems I face. Much of it goes back to the fact that I was child of one blind parent and one antisocial one, with no siblings, home schooled, with one friend at a time, and somewhat sheltered (I admit with much chagrin). So it seems I have poor social skills. The other person in this interaction was abused badly by multiple partners and has had a lot of social interaction previously but is currently something of a hermit. Hopefully this gives more information.
Roh

'Your focus determines your reality.' --QGJ
 
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dfromspencer replied to rohvannyn's response:
Hi Roh,

Oh, it does indeed help. I hate to say this, but I have one stubborn thought that won't quit.

Roh, to me, it sounds like she is abusing you? It seems she has taken her past abuses, and is now putting them on you? Plus, no matter what you say, or do to try and help her, it is never right, or accepted?!!! She needs more help than you can give her, I am sorry to say! She needs someone like Dr. Becker-Phelps to help get her to move past her past.

I think you know this, deep down, already?! But you care for her soooo much, there is no turning her problems away! Her problems are your problems, and your biggest desire is to help her, sorry, this goes over a laypersons head. I'm sorry Roh, I think you already said she has a counselor? If so, my apologies!

If you ask me, I think you put way too much pressure on yourself, to help her?!!! This pressure is hurting you, at the same time, I can sense this by your own words! You sound so desparate to help her, you are hurting yourself. Stress factors, you know?

I don't want to sound as if I am down on anyone? I am only trying to see, and help, as best a man can??? You sound like you need a vacation???

I hope you find what exactly it is you're looking for, and soon?!!!

Good luck, Roh

Dennis
LIVE LONG, LOVE WELL!!!
 
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rohvannyn replied to dfromspencer's response:
I appreciate your thoughts, Dennis. Odd as it may seem, any bad feelings she causes are as nothing to the abuses I heap on myself. I'm trying to come at the problem sideways at this point by focusing on reality based clear thought, and getting away from my usual maze of wishing things were different. I'm also looking at my diet, because I may have just discovered that some of my anxiety issues are exacerbated by a wheat gluten intolerance.

If I were thinking more clearly, and had less anxiety and therefore less stress, then I wouldn't be responding quite so badly. It is a big problem for me to over personalize, and if I'm thinking more clearly, I won't be doing that.
Roh

'Your focus determines your reality.' --QGJ
 
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dfromspencer replied to rohvannyn's response:
Hi Roh,

I am sorry to hear that! Do you have to go Gluten free, totally? Or is there a happy medium in this? I wouldn't like to have to give up my gluten!

I agree, you do abuse yourself, and put waaayyyyy to much stress on yourself!!! I fear for your health! No one can stress like that for long, it will do you in!!! As I said before, YOU NEED A VACATION!!! I'm not kidding Roh, you need to get away from her for a day or two, just to sort out some personal problems. Go visit a friend, or family member, alone! It could help?

I know you are also a work in progress, like so many of us here. It really does help to remove yourself from the problem for a couple days. I hate to see you hurt like this! Wanting so badly to help the one you love, always being thwarted by our own emotions, or thoughts. You start to feel trapped, with no way out. Your love keeps you there, trying and trying, and coming up short every time! Sometimes its best to step back, away from the situation, to get a better feel for that situation, right? Yep, right!

Go for it, Roh, step out, see if that doesn't help you come to a better answer? For yourself, and her!

You know I wish you all the best, right?!!! I do!

Dennis
LIVE LONG, LOVE WELL!!!
 
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rohvannyn replied to dfromspencer's response:
Well, I will in fact be flying back to see my family at the end of august. Since the gluten has washed out of my system the anxiety has become manageable and I'm having an easier time thinking. Same for her actually and our interactions have been a lot better.

Don't worry about the gluten, I prefer to be Paleo, which is no grains at all, and I backslid a bit due to financial and dental concerns. Now that I'm getting back on track I am having an easier ttime of it.

A major factor here is the unfortunate truth that I really stink at physical affection, and I am with a person who thrives on it. I have never learned to enjoy kissing, for example, whether with male or female, and I practically have to be reminded to give hugs. That generates resentment on both sides. So I'm attacking that problem again, and working on it, with renewed strength from my body being free of this poison.

To her credit, she does recognize when I make progress, and she shows her appreciation, but my own messed up responses make things worse for both of us.
Roh

'Your focus determines your reality.' --QGJ


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