Posted on November 19th, 2012 by

One can, I think, listen someone into existence, encourage a stronger self to emerge or a new talent to flourish.
– Mary Rose O’ Reilley


Deep listening is a skill many have not heard of. For those who have tried it, it is an uncomfortable situation full of awkwardness, risks, excess vulnerability and trouble listening or talking about oneself. To others, it’s a life changing experience.

Listening is a skill that we all have to learn at a young age. As children, we get put in time out if we don’t, we are shaped to listen to directions at school and as we grow we need to listen to lectures and bosses who tell us what we need to do to flourish.  Rarely are we given the opportunity to listen…to simply listen.

Social groups often reinforce the idea that as friends, we need to fix other people’s problems when they come to us when something is going on in their lives. We listen with the intent to reply, to give our personal experiences in hopes that they might be beneficial to our friends’ situations. What I have learned since being at Gustavus, is that when we try to prescribe remedies for other people’s problems, we often fail.

A recent experience with deep listening has further deepened my love for this exercise.  Someone I care about very much has had an incredibly rough semester and as their friend I was there for her to confide in.  At first I was very overwhelmed by all of the things going on in her life. As I was listening, it occurred to me that she didn’t need me to tell her what to do; she had the answers inside of her and just needed someone to help her reveal them.  So, I decided to only ask her questions. I was able to offer my love, compassion and support through these questions.  By the end of the conversation I felt so much better about her situation and I felt that she was relieved as well.

We all need to remember that we all have answers within us; sometimes we just need help finding our truths.




One Comment

  1. Heather Goff says:

    Wonderful post Michaela, and I agree with everything that you have said. Deep listening has also led me to a sense of gratification after a conversation, a feeling that I have helped the person help themself. So many people try to fix our problems and offer their experiences, but the life of a college student is so fraught with stressors and challenges that we typically just want someone to be present with us, and listen. I’ve even noticed that sometimes, and individual knows the answer to their problem, but doesn’t want to admit to it. It may seem to be too hard, or too uncomfortable, or just undesirable. If the listener advises them to do what they already know they should, one will often become defensive and fight against it. If you just let them talk and only ask questions as we practiced, they will usually end up convincing themselves. Like you said, we all have the answers within us. We sometimes just need help getting there.