Mitchell Rosen: A powerful gift is the ability to listen to someone
I have patients say to me during sessions that they must have “that kind of face” because everyone seems to tell them all their problems. They will laugh and say, “I could have had your job; everyone tells me their innermost secrets and I don’t even get to charge.”
What I have noticed is there is no certain type of face; the reason others trust individuals with personal information is because the person listening does just that — listens.
Sure, therapists are taught how to listen effectively. Active listening, meaning repeating back what is said, or non-judgmental reflection, are tools that therapist learn. Most people, however, don’t go to therapist school, and among those who are found by others to be non-threatening and emotionally available, they share certain common traits.
Effective listeners engender trust when they show verbally and non-verbally an interest in the other person. They do this by commenting on what is being said and not quickly turning the conversation into “the same thing happened to me or someone I know.” It may sound elementary, but some people don’t make the effort to listen or allow the conversation to be about anyone else.
If a person had the tragedy of watching someone they care about atrophy and die, it is not reassuring or validating to have this disclosure met with, “Oh, my mom, dad, dog or aunt Josie died right in front of my eyes too.” Sharing personal information should not feel like a contest involving who suffered the most or first.
While there may be a point in being a good listener when it’s helpful to disclose you also have gone through a similar experience, it’s unlikely to be in the first five minutes of the conversation.
For some, it takes a lot of courage to tell another about a triumph or failure. […]