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The Art of Listening

I have mentioned in several posts recently that I am enrolled into a program called Audire.  This is a three year program which will give me certification as a spiritual director.  In the context of the Audire program, spiritual direction is intended as a “being a companion” to someone as they explore where they are at in their relationship to whatever God they believe in.  Or, if the person does not yet believe in God, walking with them as they explore what this may mean for them and allow them a safe place to explore the possibility of a spiritual life.

One of the skills that is considered to be of prime importance in this training is the art of listening.  As I worked and trained with the CREDO retreat process in the US Navy between the years of 1984 to 2003, the skill of listening was also considered to be the most important skill that we needed to cultivate. Most of the yearly training weekends that I spent with CREDO were focused on activities that helped us to hone this particular skill.

On my refrigerator door at home I have a quotation held in place with a magnet that says something like: “The greatest gift we can offer another is the gift of rapt attention.”  I’m away from home right now so cannot verify the exact wording nor do I remember the author of the quotation.  Just a few days ago, in one of my morning reflections, I read the following quotation by Dr. Joyce Brothers: “Listening, not imitation, may be the sincerest form of flattery.”

Going back to the first quotation, I checked out the dictionary meaning of the word “rapt”.  This is what I found:

– completely engrossed: involved in, fascinated by, or concentrating on something to the exclusion of everything else.

– deeply engrossed or absorbed

– blissfully happy: showing or suggesting deep emotions

– transported with emotion

I think the first two definitions are probably the most significant with regards the skill of listening to another, although showing that I am “blissfully happy” or “transported with emotion” as I listen to another in a totally focused way is not so bad either!  It would certainly get across the message to them that I am paying complete attention to them and what they are saying.

Listening is just one component of the whole skill of good communication.  It is said that when we are communicating with another person several messages are being given and received:

– the message of the words that we are actually saying

– the message that we think we are conveying with the words that we are saying

– the message that the other person hears from the words that we are saying

– the message that the other person then “decodes” from the words that we are saying

– the message that the other person sends back to us in response to the words we are saying

– the message that the other person thinks he has conveyed with the words he has said

– the message that we hear in the words from the other person

– the message that we think we understood (decoded) from the words the other person said.

There may be a few more variables going on at the time which could depend on the parties’ humor, body language, level of distraction, and others!!  Is it any wonder that “bad communication” is probably the single most contributing factor to broken relations on the intimate level and wars on the international level?

So, in order to be a “good” listener I need to come to the table in a very specific way in order to offer that “rapt attention” to the other person.  Here are some of the tools that I have learned, and continue to hear impressed, in order to be a good listener.

– Look directly at the speaker

– make sure body posture is open and inviting

– clear the mind of other thoughts

– avoid external distractions

– suspend internal judgment

– don’t be mentally preparing a response

– acknowledge that you are hearing by nodding the head or saying “uh huh” from time to time

When the other person stops speaking:

– wait for a few moments and then check with them that they have said all they wanted/needed to say for the moment

– if you are confused about something they said, ask for clarification

– reflect back, summarize what they have said to show them that you have truly been listening

– only then offer honest feedback, being respectful of the other and stating clearly that these are your thoughts and/or feelings in response to what you have
  heard

As can be seen,  it is not easy to be a “rapt listener” but with a little thought and some willingness to get out of self, we can become the skillful listener that is needed in true communication with another.

Life Coach: A Way Of Life

I can no longer ignore the fact that some of you may be wondering why the words Life Coach precede the words Spirit, Body and Mind at the top of my blog page.  Life Coaching is a new career field that has opened up in recent years and I am, in fact, a certified Life Coach.  I chose to get my certification with the Certified Coaches Federation (CCF). 

However, Life Coaching is something that I have been doing for years.  I just didn’t call it that or realize that I was doing that until late last year.  That’s when I “God-incidentally” received an email through an unknown source that introduced me to CCF.  I contacted them to make inquiries about the certification course they offered and that was when I recognized that most of what they taught I already knew and practiced. I just didn’t have certification in the specific field.

I have already mentioned in previous blogs that I made a serious life change about thirty years ago.  This entailed much work on myself, changes in attitudes and behavior, in other words a major lifestyle change.  As a result of all of the above, I opened my heart, my mind, and my soul to many opportunities that I would otherwise have never seen.  I opened many doors that I had previously ignored and began to live a very full and rich life and continue to do so to this present moment.

I explored many paths on the road back to the religion of my childhood – Catholicism.  However, the practice of my religion is only one aspect of my spirituality.  Along the way I opened myself to being there for others, becoming part of the CREDO retreat team in Naples, Italy and also becoming a facilitator for a class called NADSAP. This acronym stood for Navy Alcohol Drug Safety Action Program, which was later known as Navy Alcohol Drug and Substance Abuse Program.  I believe that today this program carries yet another acronym and name which I do not know.

In order to undertake these roles I had to go through both programs as a willing participant then undertake paraprofessional training. They were both fairly stringent and involved a lot of personal growth and continued maintenance training each year.  I will not go into the details of those trainings but I can tell you the skills that we came out with were highly developed in the following areas:  active listening, empathy, compassion, tracking, objective feedback, personal disclosure, non judgmentalism, personality recognition, and genuineness.

So let’s get back to Life Coaching.  What is it?  And why do people need a Life Coach.  If you think about a sports team, whether they are good or bad, they got to where they are with the help of a coach, maybe many coaches.  The coach is there to assess the teams strengths and weaknesses, to see where they stand right now, and to look at what they can do to achieve future goals. He or she is there to make sure they don’t get stuck. 

And so it is with an individual person who is attempting to navigate the oceans of life.  Why can’t the team or the individual see that and work to change things without the help of a coach you may ask?  The best answer to that question may be because they are all too emotionally close to the the issue/s at hand.  In other words they can’t see the forest for the trees, or vice versa. 

This is where the coach comes in.  However, there is one big difference between a sports team coach and a Life Coach.  A sports team coach, once he/she has made all the necessary assessments, then makes a plan and gives instructions as to what the team has to do.  A Life Coach creates a professional rapport with the client from which he or she can then help the client recognize where they are at and what goals they want to achieve. Then through the skilful use of uniquely created tools, the Life Coach will encourage the client to take action to achieve their goals.

Life Coaching is most definitely a process which involves a commitment from both parties – the coach and the client.  And when I say a commitment I mean a signed-on-the-dotted-line-contract kind of commitment.  This creates a professional relationship between the two parties. The coach commits to be there fully and intentionally for the client, and the client commits to stick with the coach for a specified amount of time in order to reach his or her goals.

The main idea behind Life Coaching is to help people to recognize and break through their self-imposed limitations and to identify and achieve goals, dreams, and aspirations that will improve and enhance their lives, their careers, and their relationships.  The coach never tells the client what to do.  The coach is there to actively and objectively listen, to empower, and then to encourage the client along his or her path.

The beauty of Life Coaching is that it does not “brain wash” or take away from the client’s unique ideas, nor does it seek to interfere with or change their personality.  The coach becomes a “companion walker in life” if you will, however the client has to take his or her own footsteps. 

Another unique aspect of Life Coaching is that you do not have to be face-to-face with the client to do effective coaching.  In fact much Life Coaching is done over the telephone.  My personal preference is to have at least one initial face-to-face session with the client and then move to telephone sessions if that proves to be a convenient method for the client to be coached.

Life Coaching is a very satisfying career.  It is a privilege indeed when someone asks me to enter their life.  My sense of wonder increases a thousand fold as I watch a client’s sense of wonder at themselves increase through the coaching process.  I find that it is an honor to help someone to recognize their personal beauty, worth, and potential as they explore their relationships, their place on this earth, and the value that they can bring to anything they put their mind to.          

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