You Get Me!

A memorable moment in counselling happened the day a boy almost bounced off the lounge when leaving a session, saying ‘You get me!’

What a joy it was for him to be understood, an experience he’d had all too rarely before – and indeed many of us long for what Caroline Jones of Australian Story fame described as ‘pure gold’ – being properly heard.

We’ve all seen the fake gold of a politician’s ‘listening tour’ that’s hard to take seriously. No set of techniques can take the place of genuineness and integrity. Hidden agendas undermine listening: I’ll listen so you stop whingeing; I’ll listen so I can tell you what to do; I’ll listen so I can point out where you went wrong; I’ll listen to shut you up!

St Benedict in his Rule speaks of ‘listening with the ear of the heart’, implying that the real gold of listening assumes the other has something important and valuable to say; it is deeply respectful.

Thomas Gordon, who named ‘The Dirty Dozen’ of communication roadblocks (see the previous Counsellor’s Corner) called it ‘active listening’ when the listener tunes in to the verbal and non-verbal behaviour of the speaker (getting inside the mind of the other, seeing where they are coming from), and shows their understanding by their response.

Some ideas for good listening:
1. Let them speak with minimal interruption; instead use eye-contact and nods to show you are following (instead of preparing a reply). The word LISTEN is an anagram of SILENT.
2. Restate their message in your own words so they know whether you’ve understood or not. This is not parroting or paraphrasing – it’s attunement. Notice their tone and posture. If you have understood they will often add more detail. Don’t be afraid of silences if they indicate further thinking or reflection.
3. Use phrases like “You feel…”, “You think…”, “What you’re saying is…”, “It seems like…”
4. Don’t show approval or disapproval of what’s said, just make sure you’ve got it right (you can rush to judgment later). Take some time to explore before together working out the best route to take.

Short test: Your child comes home upset, saying he/she has had an argument with friends. Your best initial response is:
a) I can’t understand it – your friends are lovely.
b) Just wait till I phone their parents!
c) Never mind, I’m sure it will work out.
d) I can see you’re really upset about this.
e) In our family we are nice even if others aren’t.

Read more about the ‘Dirty Dozen’ at

Read about active listening with teenagers at 

Martin Graham
School Counsellor

Information about counselling is at {base_url}/learning-teaching