cover image of episode 94 How to be a Better Listener and Unravel your Chain of Pain

How do you listen? Do you listen with your projections, through your projection, through your ambitions, desires, fears, anxieties, through hearing only what you want to hear, only what will be satisfactory, what will gratify, what will give comfort, what will for the moment alleviate your suffering? If you listen through the screen of your desires, then you obviously listen to your own voice; you are listening to your own desires. And is there any other form of listening? Is it not important to find out how to listen not only to what is being said but to everything – to the noise in the streets, to the chatter of birds, to the noise of the tramcar, to the restless sea, to the voice of your husband, to your wife, to your friends, to the cry of a baby? Listening has importance only when one is not projecting one’s own desires through which one listens. Can one put aside all these screens through which we listen, and really listen?

Putting Aside Screens, The Book of Life: Daily Meditations with Jiddu Krishnamurti

Last week, Jeff and Ellen shared two invitations. The first one was to do a check-in and decide on your important relationships, the ones you want to give time to and nurture. Then make sure that you give those relationships regular attention. The second invitation was to find out how different people want to be listened to so that you can show up for them that way.

If you still haven’t had a chance to do those two actions, pause the recording and take 10 minutes to think about it.


[01:46] Recap of Last Week’s Invitations
[02:51] The Steps in Listening
[05:58] Types of Listening
[10:04] Listening Styles
[13:51] Why is it so hard to listen?
[17:34] How to find the areas of pain for growth in relationships
[22:59] Why a wide range of emotions is healthy
[27:18] Why It’s Important to change your blueprint
[30:14] What we bond to and attachment theory


Do you enjoy listening to lectures, to your parents, your boss? Why do we find listening to be such a chore at times. One issue could be that we haven’t build that competence or we may not even know what is good listening. Ellen shared that perspective last week.

Steps in Listening

Listening includes many actions: receiving, interpreting, recalling, evaluating, and responding. There is a lot going on as we pay attention to both verbal and nonverbal signs.

Before you can receive, you have to be in the right environment. Environmental noises (loud conversation, cars, etc.), physiological noise (pain, tiredness, etc.), psychological noises (worry, fear, stress, distraction) all reduce our ability to receive. It can help to schedule the conversation and set the right atmosphere. Make sure that everyone in the conversation is able to receive. You may need to check in at the beginning of the conversation as well as along the way.

Once we’ve received information, we filter it through our own experience to try to make sense of it. This is interpreting, where we identify the main points and supporting points. We may have trouble with this step or even skip it completely if we don’t understand it.

We keep information in our working memory and can use it in the course of the conversation. You may have experience this when an annoyed friend or family member asks you to repeat what they just said to prove that you were listening to them. We use our recall to rephrase and to reorganize messages to our preferences.

As we listen, we evaluate what we are hearing. Does it make sense? What’s fact and what’s inference? How credible is the message? It’s important to evaluate the content and not the speaker.

Then there is responding. A conversation involves give an take. We can show that we are paying attention and engage with the speaker through both verbal and nonverbal feedback. This could be nodding the head, paraphrasing, asking questions, etc. It’s important to base the response on the message and the context.

Types of Listening

The two main types of listening that the Whites mentioned are empathetic listening and problem solving. They are two out of seven types of listening. Let’s get into it.

Empathetic listening helps you look at something from another person’s perspective. You can try to put yourself in their shoes as they are speaking, to explore the experience within the words.

Informational listening – This type of listening is usually used for learning. It requires concentration so that you can understand and retain information.

Discriminative listening – Instead of listening to the words, you’re paying attention to intonation, verbal cues and how the sound changes. Even when we don’t know the words, we can understand the emotion, the intent. You can sometimes notice a difference between the words and the emotions, which can be very revealing. You might also pay attention to what’s going on in a particular space. This is important in all types of relationships.

Biased listening – this means listening for particular ideas, usually to substantiate a belief or a point of view. This can mean missing important details. It doesn’t mean there is any ill intent. It could be excitement causing a person to focus on certain elements of a talk rather than the others, so that they only process what’s important to them and miss the rest.

Sympathetic listening is about hearing the emotions or feelings when someone is speaking so that you can provide emotional support for them along with sympathy.

Comprehensive listening – This kind of listening is a building block for informational listening, for example. It’s important for analyzing the words and understanding the message. This comes up a lot at work as well as in close relationships.

Critical listening involves analyzing complex informaiton as you listen. You try to evaluate what the other person is saying, bringing in facts from your own knowledge and experience.

When you listen well, there are several effects on the speaker and yourself:

  • let the other person feel heard and supported
  • view the interaction positively
  • access new information and perspectives
  • expand self and social awareness
  • create a safe and inclusive environment
  • improve collaboration

Listening Styles

A contributing factor is the listening style as well. When you listen, are

  • people-oriented, focusing on the needs and feelings of the speaker;
  • action-oriented, preferring precise, well organized speech?
  • content-oriented, listening to in-depth presentation with multiple perspectives
  • time-oriented, where you’re focused on the goal and completing tasks?

This can actually cause conflict sometimes. I remember I was working with a principal and I found meetings so painful because I would try to ask questions in the meeting to understand what he was saying and he would just kind of wave my questions away and bulldoze over them. Eventually we got to have a chat about some of the challenges that we were both experiencing during the meetings. And he explained to me that he had a background as a coach. And he liked to keep to the schedule. And when people ask questions, he considered that as being disruptive because it would mean that he couldn’t keep to his schedule.

And I found that it was so interesting because my perspective was okay, well, let’s build in time for questions into the agenda so that we can still stay on task but be able to have conversations.

I guess that’s a personal preference. I don’t really enjoy being in meetings where I just listen to somebody speak, where there isn’t an opportunity for collaboration or contribution from all parties. So that was an interesting experience for me in terms of listening and in terms of people’s different approaches to meetings as well. I guess we could say that that principal was time oriented.

If you reflect on yourself, if you think about a conversation that you had today, which of the four listening styles did you exhibit? Then think about which of the four listening styles does your partner or the person that you spend the most time with prefer. How do they show up when they listen? And how do you think they might like to be listened to.

I think it could depend on the context and the environment. But much of the time, we don’t even think about how people might like to be listened to or how we might be showing up in conversations, how we might be listening. So I think reflecting on how you show up, what listening styles do you exhibit, what type of listening you fall into most often could be a very interesting thought experiment, a very good writing experience if you’re into journaling. And then you could think about what type of listening would help some of your close relationships, some of your important relationships.

So if you have that list of relationships that you thought about last time, the four relationships also that are most important to you, what kind of listening do you tend to exhibit in each of those and what kind of listening does the other person exhibit. And is there an opportunity for you to grow and develop your listening styles and your types of listening so that you’re a better listener.

I think that different types of situations will call for different types of listening. So it can be good to think ahead about how you will show up for the conversation if you have the agenda or if you know what the person wants to talk about, or if you know what kind of person they are. You could think about how might you show up to be able to be a good listener for that person.

Challenges with Listening

But why is it so hard for us to listen?

One of the reasons that it’s hard to listen is because the speech rate is significantly less than our thought rate. We can process 400 – 800 words per minute but speak 125 to 175 words per minutes. This makes it possible for our mind to wander. We can engage the mind by thinking about what the speaker is saying – organizing, paraphrasing, etc.

Another barrier to listening is poor presentation or information overload. Perhaps you’ve started out okay in a meeting but lost interest or capacity to pay attention as the presenter droned on.

We may also accept or feel okay with selective attention, only paying attention when we hear our name or when a topic of interest comes up. Most of us when we were students, and I definitely remember this from being a teacher as well, where students errors would perk up whenever you said this will be on the test. That would be an example of selective attention.

Often what we end up doing as well is we’re preparing our response while we’re listening or instead of listening, so we’re not really giving the speaker, our full attention.

One way to get around that is to feel confident that it’s okay if there is a pause in conversation. It’s okay if you take time when the person is finished speaking to formulate your thoughts. Sometimes we think that we have to be so fast in conversations that at the end we’re like, oh, I forgot that I wanted to say this and that. Whereas if you can feel present in the conversation. And really get to that place of responding to what is really happening as opposed to staying in your head, you may find that you’re having much more interesting, much more engaged conversations.

That’s one of the things that I try to do in the podcast. That often means that a lot of the questions tååhat I’ve prepared do not get asked, do not get answered. But that’s okay because I really want to be present and responsive to what is happening during the conversation, and not too tied to my preparation. I really wanted to be a conversation and that means that I need to be able to. Pay attention to what the person’s saying, process it, respond to it, in fact, go through all of those steps that I talked about earlier of what’s involved in a conversation. If I’m just paying attention to my questions, then that’s less a conversation than an interview. There is definitely a place for both, but when the goal is conversation, then the responding part and the being present part are very important.

The second part of this week’s episode is about how to find the areas of Penn for growth in relationships. It’s a continuation of my conversation we’ve Jeff and Ellen last week, the conversation went a bit long. And so I am bringing you the second part in this episode

Transcript of How to find the areas of pain for growth in relationships

How to find the areas of pain for growth in relationships

[17:34] Jeff White: That actually brings up another good point about having big energy. People quickly will say they overreacted or I overreacted to something, when in fact the overreaction is just the reaction of the present circumstance, plus all the other unprocessed circumstances that are thematically the same. And so you have this big energy reaction to unprocessed energy. And that is sort of the big clue for you as an individual to say, I have energy about this topic, and this would be the place where I start digging. The digging of what am I feeling right now, that is first step to know what’s going on for me.
Most of us don’t take the time to pause, to understand what’s really going on. Most of us want to avoid knowing what’s going on. We don’t want to feel so that’s the first step is just to acknowledge what is the feeling going on? And underneath of that, what is the need that I’m not getting here? What is this action I’m about to do? What do I believe is going to get me? And those are the first two steps and really how we help a lot of people.
[18:47] Damianne President: People find so many different approaches to dealing with it, self-medicating, drinking, avoidance behaviors basically. Many of us haven’t learned strategies of what do we do with it when we face those uncomfortable situations,
[19:04] Jeff White: Yes, which brings us back to attaching, bonding. So when I get ungrounded, what are my typical responses? Do I get up and go shopping? Do I open a, another bottle of wine? Do I light up a smoke? Do I get on Amazon and buy a whole bunch of stuff? Do I end up cleaning my house to the nth degree? Do I yell, do I avoid, do I go exercise? And in and of themselves, exercising, you know, having a glass of wine, these things are not the problem. It’s that they become external methods for us to regulate our emotions and calm ourselves down and sooth. And then this ultimately becomes what we bond to. This is why people bond so much to work and then you have workoholism. You have people that bond to retail therapy and they have problems with money because this is how they deal with uncomfortable emotions.
[20:06] Ellen White: Because many of us were not taught how to deal with those emotions and modeled and acceptance, and even an appreciation for being able to connect, it’s actually often the opposite. Oh, don’t feel sad. Be happy, have a chocolate bar, this will cheer you up. Here, look, what can we do to distract. Don’t cry, you know, or, oh, you feel down or sad. Let’s just fix it with something really fast. Let’s get you out of this what feels so uncomfortable for me. Let’s get you out of your negative emotion and move you into something else.
Sometimes as children, we were directly punished. You want to cry, I’ll give you something to cry about. And so we’ve learned Through various different exposures, both from our family and from society at, large that emotions are not something people have liked, particularly what we would label as negative emotion, which really they’re just different forms of expression. And so we’re not comfortable with dealing with those emotions. So then someone comes along and says, well, just tell me how you feel. It’s not always that simple at that point.
One, we may not have a lexicon. Our lexicon is really basic and simple with like five different emotions that we might be able to express. Or if we were punished for exposing our feelings or expressing, someone’s gonna feel quite threatened by that question. What do you mean? What am I feeling? What are you setting me up for? And then you’re like, whoa, or you’re getting really defensive. And you could see where that could escalate really quickly.
[21:38] Jeff White: Because their blueprint is bad stuff is going to happen any second if I start telling about my emotions. And so therefore, no way I’m going to start telling you how I feel. I wouldn’t even acknowledge to myself because from childhood, if bad stuff came, like a threat or abandonment or sent to my room or being hit, I’m not going to bring that because in my memory banks, it says dealing and bringing up and allowing myself to emote equates to bad stuff and bad stuff happening means it’s a threat to my existence, and I’m not going to do that.
[22:16] Ellen White: Think of how many people, you know, who are comfortable crying in front of another human being. Most people apologize profusely for crying. Most people feel so ashamed and embarrassed if they cried and let that out. And so that gives you a little glimpse of the kind of mentality that we host at large about emotions. And not only can we not control our emotions in that way, like they’re created all the time whether we are aware of them or not, but then how can we feel seen and accepted, but rather start to feel a great deal of embarrassment or shame for our own self. And that gets in the way us connecting and our emotions and our relationships.

[22:59] Why a wide range of emotions is healthy

[22:59] Damianne President: I find this so interesting as well, because what we labeled negative emotions, which are just emotions on the spectrum, we’re conditioned so that it’s uncomfortable for everybody involved. It’s uncomfortable for the person experiencing the emotion and not knowing what to do with it. And it’s uncomfortable for the person who happens to be in that space as well because we need to fix this. And so being able to sit with discomfort, to sit with pain, is not an experience that many of us have accepted as default, as okay even.
[23:35] Jeff White: Yeah, and so one thing we consciously model to our son is allowing emotions to come up. So when we watch a movie and it’s got a sad ending and we’re crying that we all are allowed to cry and it’s important that our son sees adults crying and nothing bad happens. And then we also talk about it, why I’m crying at this movie and what touched me.
And so this culture of pro emotion, pro expression means that in the future, this is the seeds we’re planting here, then the future, when my son is in the presence of another human being who is being emotional, sad, angry, depressed, anxious, anything, he will just say that’s an emotion, and I don’t need to set the defenses., I don’t need to solve it or put it away, so that he isn’t triggered. It becomes almost a non event. He’s allowing everyone else to just emote, that he’s comfortable in the space of the emotional realm.
[24:41] Damianne President: I used to watch Doctor. Quinn medicine woman when I was in high school, university, at some point. I remember there was almost never an episode when I did not cry. And a family member would be like, you know, this is not real, right, like, why are you crying, and then always feeling like I needed to hide to cry, you know, like the surreptitious cleaning of your eyes, pretending that nobody can see you so that nobody’s going to comment on the facts. The connection I’ve made later is that when we suppress what we call negative emotions, there is actually a connection to being able to experience the wide range of emotions, including what we consider to be positive emotions. And so somebody being too jubilant is also discomforting. It can also feel uncomfortable, as much as so-called negative emotions.
[25:40] Jeff White: Yeah. You have a great thing about the, it’s not a filter the filter of, uh, uh, the tap. So Ellen has a great thing to say. She’s going to say it in a minute, but it goes something like this, that when you put up a wall from not feeling bad, it’s not a permeable wall where I’ll only let good emotions out, but I won’t let bad emotions out. Nope, it’s a wall. So when you shut down or shut off feeling negative emotions, you’re shutting all the emotions off. So it means you won’t feel as bad, but you’re also not going to feel as good. And this is the big suppression of all of our emotions.
Whether we’re talking about negative emotions or positive, it makes it difficult for people to understand and connect to what is joy? How do I know what that feels like? I don’t know what passionate excitement is. And they think this euphoric feeling must be joy and passion, and they’re not able to discern what’s going on inside them.
And so you have people that may say, oh, I’m really excited. But for us, we see them as really ungrounded or people that are saying, oh, I’m really fine. Everything’s good. But their energy is just clearly vibing they’re not good. They’re not acknowledging the sadness. And this is the mismatch that when we don’t feel, when we can’t be present and allow ourselves to feel, then we suppress all that.

[27:18] Why It’s Important to change your blueprint

[27:18] Ellen White: We’ve, we’ve numbed out. I’m going to take over now. Now I remember that analogy. Yes, it’s the one about the wall. To carry on that point that Jeff made for me. Thank you. It’s the whole idea of when we numb out to not feel the pain, we also numb out from our ability to feel the joy. So it would be like living in a black and white world where we numb out color cause there’s not as much contrast sometimes, or we don’t have to deal with the contrast and colors, the variation, the brightness. But then we’re missing out on all the beauty and Technicolor and variations that come with actually allowing ourselves to be more sensitive and attuned and open.
And then if we numb out on our side, what ability then do we have to be attuned to our children? I can’t just numb out on me and then suddenly have all that attunement and diversity in my ability to feel and connect for my child. It doesn’t work that way. And so there’s a big price we pay and an almost like domino, a ripple effect when each of us cope to survive because of something that seems like a simple comment.
I love your story because as you’re crying from the show and you get what feels like a negative job for your tears, you suck them up next time. And then it starts. And then what happens when you get the jab another time or a friend says it to you, and then you’re like, oh, there must be really something to this. I must have an issue. There must be something wrong with me. And we are very quick to blame ourselves, especially as children. In our innocence, we can’t imagine that it could be anyone else outside of us; it must be us. So we become very quick to blame and shame ourselves and take on responsibility for things that really aren’t ours.
[29:06] Jeff White: And this is why when you said sometimes you’re acting out the very behavior that a parent may do that you don’t like. So part of that messaging is we don’t cry. And in the face of seeing another human being cry at a movie might trigger this is the marching orders here. We don’t cry at movies. There’s no crying and therefore anyone who cries is not allowed. I wasn’t allowed; you’re not allowed to cry. And then we propagate this kind of viewpoint of we’re not allowed to emote.
[29:42] Damianne President: I think it’s even more insidious than that because not only are we, like we can’t cry, you can’t cry, but it’s like, if you cry, we’re going to pretend you’re not crying.
[29:50] Ellen White: Or we’re going to punish you for crying.
[29:52] Jeff White: Let’s not invite them because you know, they’re gonna cry or even side comments.
Make sure you bring the tissues if she’s coming along. Oh boy, you know, we gotta wait till the end of the movie. And till she get gathers herself back together, these are all negating messages of abandonment. I’m not allowed to be me. I have to be something else then truly me.

Attachment theory and how we bond

[30:14] Ellen White: So this also forms our view on how we feel about relationships. What is it like to be in relationship? Wow relationships are really wounding? Relationships are hard. I’m not really sure I like people. I think I’ll work with horses or animals because they don’t lie and manipulate; what you see is what you get and I don’t feel faked out or judged by them.
And so attachment theory at the essence is do we feel that people, human beings, do we have one, two, a handful that have our back and really see us and let us be us and are there for us and committed to the exchange and openness of this relationship, or are there conditions, are they abandoning us? Are they coming and going which makes me feel really insecure and unsafe. And so if I can’t depend on human beings, what can I depend on? Well, this drug is always there to make me feel good. I can always count on my drug. And I can always count on a good sale to make me feel good. And you know what, ice cream always makes me feel good. And I found consistency in things because I haven’t found them and that stability in people.

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