The Naturally Good Listener

 

Dr. Patrick J. DiVietri, OCDS, Ph.D. CPC, Fellow: AAPC

Many people are naturally good listeners at least when they want to be. The naturally good listener has an active mind that summarizes what is being said.   This common sense process may center on three simple questions that are very helpful to anyone who wants to be a better listener. This approach is a synthesis of the keys to attentive listening because they are contained in the attitude necessary to sincerely ask these questions.

When listening, ask yourself:

“What is he/she communicating or telling me?”

  • This question moves the focus from the listener to the speaker and what is being said versus what the listener would like to say.

“What feelings might be involved?”

  • “Are the feelings what the speaker wants me to address?” The more the feelings are involved the more patience and understanding are required before a response can be made. The speaker must somehow come to know that these feelings are understood.

What response does he/she want from me?

  • This is the critical question that needs to be kept in mind because it involves the reason that the person is speaking to you in the first place.

What do you want from me?

People speak to us for a number of reasons and many communication problems stem from the listener’s failure to recognize what the speaker wants from them. The listener’s response might be quite true and good but it may not be what the speaker is looking for. Experience shows us that when speaking to another person people generally want one or a combination of the following responses.   The speaker generally may want the listener to do the following:

  • Just listen and understand
  • Console and support
  • Help Clarify
  • Confirm
  • Agree
  • Solve a problem
  • Act upon self or another

Just Listen and Understand

People always want to be listened to and to be understood.   This must happen for other things to follow. It is the most important response to give. When both parties feel mutually understood tension and discord are diminished. This is true even when the two do not agree. The likelihood of anger erupting is greatly diminished. A priest used to tell the story of how his parents never got angry at each other. At first I thought him to be naïve. However, he proceeded to describe how they conducted their conversations. He said that his parents did something that he had learned to do during his courses in philosophy. One of the rudiments of philosophical discourse is obviously debate. A basic component of debate is that the first party states a position. Before the responding team could offer a rebuttal they had to first state the position of the first party clearly and faithfully. The first party would then acknowledge whether the second team was able to express the essential elements of the first position. Also, in debate, the first cross-examination can only contain clarifying questions. These are the questions that allow the first party to elaborate on points that the listener needs to better understand. After this process is done, the first party confirms the proper understanding and then the rebuttal or opposing position can be presented.

It so happened that this young priest’s parents naturally did this. They always made it a point to understand each other before responding and making sure that their own understanding was consistent with what their spouse intended. As a result, even when they disagreed upon any point, neither party felt insulted because the other did not take the time to sufficiently understand them.

Console or support

People often want consolation and support. A burden seems lighter when shared by someone who cares. This combines with being understood to establish most of what people want most of the time that they speak about anything that is important to them.

Help clarify

People sometimes want to get things out so they can see them more clearly. In this case people simply want to bounce things off of someone else. They come to get some order so that they can make a decision or get their thinking straight.

Agreement or confirmation

People sometimes want someone to confirm that they are right. Sometimes people just want others to agree with them. However, understanding does not mean that one agrees. E.g. “I understand you feel like punching your spouse, but I do not agree you should do it.”

Help solve a problem

People sometimes want you to solve the problem. They want solutions and directions. This is the dynamic that causes the most trouble when someone tries to solve someone else’s problem when the person doesn’t want that kind of help. We will address this next, in “When solving a problem becomes a problem.”

Act upon myself or someone else

When someone wants you to change your behavior or to perform some action then they will know you understand because they see the action. They may want you to act upon someone else. E.g. A wife who wants her husband to do something to change the behavior of their son.   She will know that her husband understands when she sees that he has talked to his son.

A person may want you to do something about your own behavior. E.g. A wife wants her husband to be more attentive or to do things around the house. She will know that her husband understands when she sees that he starts picking up after himself, doing the dishes, cooking, helping with the laundry and whatever other tasks may be on the list.

Orientation on the Goods of Marriage: FAITHFULNESS

Dr. Patrick J. DiVietri, Ph.D., MA, CPC, OCDS

“I promise to be true to you in sickness and in health, for richer or for poorer, in good times an bad . . .”

Fidelity is living out a life-long promise to God and to each other to give yourself only to your spouse.     The issue of trust it addresses, “If I give you myself, will you be faithful to your word?”          Attentiveness to the beloved is the primary activity of fidelity. This counteracts self-absorption by turn one towards the beloved and seek the good for them more than themselves.

Intrinsic within the good of fidelity is the unconditional statement, “no matter what you do I will be faithful.” When a bond is formed in marriage, infidelity does not break the bond. It is intrinsic in the vow that the intended fidelity is unconditional no matter what the person does. The witness of those who have been abandon and yet a life of fidelity is important to support and to point to for inspiration.

The fidelity is within the exclusivity of the marriage bond. It means one will not allow anyone else into the exclusive qualities aspects that are only granted to the rite of marriage. The actions of the spouse do not free one of the obligation of this vow. It must also be understood that this does not mean that there are not reasons for “separation while the bond endures.” Canons 1151-1155 address the circumstances under which a separation may be allowed or even required. However, once the reason for the separation is removed or remedied, “the innocent spouse can laudably readmit the others spouse to conjugal life.” Can. 1154

WHAT WOULD YOU DO?

Couples should be asked:

  1. Do you know of a married couple who divorced because one of them was unfaithful? If so, what do you think of what took place?
  2. If you were ever tempted to give up on the marriage because your spouse was unfaithful, what would you do?
  3. The vow states that such things as infidelity will be forgiven. How difficult would that be to do? What would be the greatest difficulty? How could counseling with a priest or marriage counselor help?

What do you want from me?

 

Dr. Patrick J. DiVietri Ph.D. CPC, OCDS

People speak to us for a number of reasons and many communication problems stem from the listener’s failure to recognize what the speaker wants from them. The listener’s response might be quite true and good but it may not be what the speaker is looking for. Experience shows us that when speaking to another person people generally want one or a combination of the following responses.   The speaker generally may want the listener to do the following:

  • Just listen and understand
  • Console and support
  • Help Clarify
  • Confirm
  • Agree
  • Solve a problem
  • Act upon self or another

Just Listen and Understand

People always want to be listened to and to be understood. This must happen for other things to follow. It is the most important response to give. When both parties feel mutually understood tension and discord are diminished. This is true even when the two do not agree. The likelihood of anger erupting is greatly diminished. A priest used to tell the story of how his parents never got angry at each other. At first I thought him to be naïve. However, he proceeded to describe how they conducted their conversations. He said that his parents did something that he had learned to do during his courses in philosophy. One of the rudiments of philosophical discourse is obviously debate. A basic component of debate is that the first party states a position. Before the responding team could offer a rebuttal they had to first state the position of the first party clearly and faithfully. The first party would then acknowledge whether the second team was able to express the essential elements of the first position. Also, in debate, the first cross-examination can only contain clarifying questions. These are the questions that allow the first party to elaborate on points that the listener needs to better understand. After this process is done, the first party confirms the proper understanding and then the rebuttal or opposing position can be presented.

It so happened that this young priest’s parents naturally did this. They always made it a point to understand each other before responding and making sure that their own understanding was consistent with what their spouse intended. As a result, even when they disagreed upon any point, neither party felt insulted because the other did not take the time to sufficiently understand them.

Console or support

People often want consolation and support. A burden seems lighter when shared by someone who cares. This combines with being understood to establish most of what people want most of the time that they speak about anything that is important to them.

Help clarify

People sometimes want to get things out so they can see them more clearly. In this case people simply want to bounce things off of someone else. They come to get some order so that they can make a decision or get their thinking straight.

Agreement or confirmation

People sometimes want someone to confirm that they are right. Sometimes people just want others to agree with them. However, understanding does not mean that one agrees. E.g. “I understand you feel like punching your spouse, but I do not agree you should do it.”

Help solve a problem

People sometimes want you to solve the problem. They want solutions and directions. This is the dynamic that causes the most trouble when someone tries to solve someone else’s problem when the person doesn’t want that kind of help. We will address this next, in “When solving a problem becomes a problem.”

Act upon myself or someone else

When someone wants you to change your behavior or to perform some action then they will know you understand because they see the action. They may want you to act upon someone else. E.g. A wife who wants her husband to do something to change the behavior of their son.   She will know that her husband understands when she sees that he has talked to his son.

A person may want you to do something about your own behavior. E.g. A wife wants her husband to be more attentive or to do things around the house. She will know that her husband understands when she sees that he starts picking up after himself, doing the dishes, cooking, helping with the laundry and whatever other tasks may be on the list.

 

 

 

 

The St. Valentine of Valentine’s Day

  The source for this article: Monasteryicons.com

According to Hallmark Cards, each year on Valentine’s Day more than 163 million cards are exchanged – a quarter of all the cards that are sent in a year. How did the name of a third-century Christian martyr become linked with an annual celebration of romantic love? Let’s explore the history of Valentine’s Day…

The roots of Valentine’s Day go back to the time of the Roman Empire. In ancient Rome, February 14th was a holiday to honour the Goddess of women and marriage. The following day, February 15th, began the Feast of Lupercalia.

By the third century the golden era of Roman empire had almost come to an end. Lack of quality administrators led to frequent civil strife. Education declined, taxation increased and trade was difficult. The empire had grown too large to be shielded from external aggression and internal chaos with existing forces. More and more capable men were required to to be recruited as soldiers and officers to protect the nation from takeover. The Emperor Claudius II felt that married men were more emotionally attached to their families, and thus, would not make good soldiers. So to assure high quality soldiers he issued an edict forbidding marriage.

The ban on marriage was a great shock for the Romans. But they dared not voice their protest against the mighty emperor. The Christian bishop Saint Valentine also realized the injustice of the decree. Seeing the distriess of young couples who gave up all hopes of being united in marriage, he planned to counter the monarch’s orders in secrecy. Whenever couples thought of marrying, they went to Saint Valentine who met them afterwards in a secret place, and joined them in the sacrament of matrimony. And thus he secretly performed many marriages for young couples. But such things cannot remain hidden for long and it was only a matter of time before Claudius came to know of these secret marriages and had the saint arrested.

While awaiting his sentence in prison, the saint was approached by his jailor, Asterius. Hearing of Saint Valentine’s divinely given power of healing, Asterius requested the latter to restore the sight of his blind daughter, which he did.

When Claudius met Saint Valentine, he was said to have been impressed by the dignity and conviction of the holy bishop. However, Saint Valentine refused to agree with the emperor regarding the ban on marriage. It is also said that the emperor tried to convert Saint Valentine to the Roman gods but was unsuccessful in his efforts. The saint refused to recognize the Roman Gods and even attempted to convert the emperor to Christianity. This angered Claudius who gave the order of execution of Saint Valentine.

Meanwhile, it caused great grief to Asterius’ young daughter to hear of her miraculous benefactor’s imminent death. Legend says that just before his execution, Saint Valentine asked for a pen and paper from his jailor and signed a farewell message to the jailor’s daughter “From Your Valentine” … a phrase that lived ever after.

Orientation on the Goods of Marriage: Permanence

  Patrick J. DiVietri. Ph.D., CPC, OCDS

“Will you love and honor each other as man and wife for the rest of your lives?”  “I will love and honor you all the days of my life.”

No matter what you do, I will remain married to you till death. I promise always to forgive you.  There is a radical difference between couples who contemplate divorce and those who do not see it as an option.  Those dedicated to preserve the marriage will recover far quicker then those whose purpose is weakened by indecisiveness of possible escape hatches. The mistaken notion that many suffer from is that “God wants me to be happy and therefore I will leave this painful situation to find happiness somewhere else.”  My professional counsel to those who say this is, “God wants you to be happy in this life and the next.  However, the suffering of this life may be part of the happiness in the next life.  We also know that suffering is a part of deepening the capacity for happiness even in this life.”  In light of Faith we may also say that “you may not be happy with this spouse but you will not find happiness with another spouse.”  The only avenue for that happiness is through the vocation to the spouse to whom you have been bound.        It is important to explain to couples the situations where pain might be intolerable and a separation may be required because of grave circumstances.   The two situations that best fit this description are:

  1. Physical abuse of spouse or children that is ongoing and not being remedied
  2. Flaunted infidelity such that the children are aware of it and will be given the message that such behavior is acceptable if separation did not take place.  The separation is for the sake of reconciliation.

Cultural Influences against permanence

There is a need to discuss the problem of the Catholic approach to divorce.  I.e. We don’t get divorces per se so when there is a crisis in the marriage we say, “There wasn’t any marriage in the first place.”  One immediately assumes that there wasn’t a valid marriage in order to justified the civil divorce.

These days, we hate the idea of pain and suffering. We don’t see it as redemptive. We don’t see any value in it. But people who know what love is understand suffering. People who love know that suffering has value. When you love someone, there isn’t anything you wouldn’t endure for that person, including the cross. In the end we know that love conquers all things, because love conquered all things when Christ conquered death on the cross.

One must also address the issue of parental divorce and the effect upon the engaged couple.  One must ascertain the circumstances of the divorce and how the engaged person/couple views the divorce.  They need to consider how they intellectually view permanence and what their experience and emotional development might be.  For example, a common dynamic is as follows:

  1. “I am against divorce.”
  2. “My parents divorced and I don’t want to do that.”
  3. “They divorced because they said it was too painful to be together any longer and that they were better off apart.”
  4. “I love both my parents and I accept their decision.  They really were hurting each other too much and it’s better.”

What’s the experiential message?  “Marriage is permanent but if the pain is too much, divorce is better.”  What will happen when things get really painful?

The individual has to confront this idea and think through how they will make their life different.

What would the couple do?

  1. Do you know of a married couple who gave up on their marriage because their jobs and personal interests pulled them apart?
  2. What would you be willing to do with your own spouse to make your marriage work?
  3. How could you safeguard the permanence of your marriage?

Orientation on the Goods of Marriage: Partnership

Patrick J. DiVietri Ph.D. CPC, OCDS

Partnership

“The family is an intimate community of life and love, whose mission is to guard, reveal, and communicate love” (From Familiaris Consortio, #31).

“Have you come here freely . . .?”

At the time of matrimony between a man and a woman in the Catholic Church there is an opening interrogation prior to the proclamation of the vow itself.  It contains this question, “Have you come here freely to give yourselves to each other in marriage?”  This question is to clarify that there is no impediment or coercion to their entrance into forming the bond of marriage.  It is in that bond that a partnership for the whole of life takes place.  The vow will a partnership of goods that will permeate the marriage.

This partnership is revealed in how the couple carries out their life activities, decisions and responsibilities.  Any marital or family problem is a matter for the partnership.  Maintaining civility and mutual respect and cooperation is the critical practical dynamic.  When these are lost restoring them becomes the primary objective before anything else can be accomplished because they are pre-emptive to the expression of trust.  Partnership is practically expressed in paying bills, raising children, religious practice in and outside the home, family relations, decision making, handling all chores and family operations etc.

It is important for the couple to have some clear objective of what they will do if the partnership is threatened.  The disposition that is desired looks like, “I will do whatever it takes to preserve the partnership of this marriage.”  That attitude, in mutual cooperation and the grace of God will weather and overcome any obstacle when combined with perseverance.  It behooves the couples to ask the questions of themselves that will provide some focus on what they might do to preserve the marriage.

  1. Have you talked about decision making and sharing of a mutual life together?
  2. Have you ever talked about what you will do if you become unhappy in marriage?
  3. Would you be willing to seek counseling with a priest or a professional and do whatever is necessary to strengthen your partnership in the marriage?
  4. Do you know other couples who did or did not do this and how things worked out for them?

Four Phases of Listening Well

 

Dr. Patrick J. DiVietri Ph.D. CPC, OCDS

1)      Understand what the speaker is saying

This applies to the literal content and the personal intentions or meaning on the part of the speaker.  Listen intently to what is being said.  Taking notes will help capture the literal expressions and enable clarification of meaning.  One can then ask clarifying questions.

When as student takes notes in school they focus upon what is being said by the other person.  They are intent on understanding.  They are not concerned with giving the teacher/superior direction.  They are careful to be exact to grasp to meaning that is intended by the speaker.  They would ask questions to clarify their understanding.  They would reflect upon the implications of the information and how it relates to other things that they know.  They would study it later and draw conclusions. This is the exact same process for understanding someone who seeks counsel. 

2)      Clarify the speakers meaning

On page 157 we referred to an aspect contained in parliamentary debate, during the first cross-examination, at which time there are no rebuttal arguments presented.  Rather, one may only ask questions which help to clarify the affirmative speakers meaning.  There is often a confirmation question, which solidifies the understanding.  This is the essence of good listening skills and is at the heart of 95% of counseling interventions.  In a relationship this will greatly reduce anger because each person will feel that the other person is listening and understanding them even if they do not agree. 

The ability to express the speaker’s meaning in reasonable terms and manner fosters the feeling of being understood in the speaker.

3)      Ascertain desire of the speaker

The next critical point is to ascertain what the speaker wants before responding.  The first two phases are the most important and will have the greatest impact upon the speaker.  It will bring the majority of healing and consolation.  However, the most common practical problem lies in responses by the listener, which are inconsistent with the desires of the speaker.  People often understand what the other person is saying but fail to grasp why it is being said and what is wanted.  As a result the response causes problems and produces a sense of misunderstanding.  E.g. Husband, “I understand you.”  Wife, “If you understood what I was saying, you wouldn’t respond that way.”  There are many wonderful and loving responses that are frustrating because they are unnecessary.  Thus the point here is to ask the speaker to state what they want and why they are saying what they have said.  Until this is clear, it is usually unwise to offer a response.  

4)      Respond in conformity with the desire

Once it is understood, one may respond appropriately.  If it is not possible to respond as the speaker desires some discussion or explanation would follow.  A prudent step in this case would be to ask for some time to reflect on the matter.

 

When have you felt like this before?

  Dr. Patrick J. DiVietri Ph.D. CPC, OCDS

People have defenses, which protect them from bad memories.  It is not a good idea to barge into a person’s psyche and dispel their defenses and leave them vulnerable if a better means of coping is not in place.[1]  One must proceed in a respective manner consistent with the way the Holy Spirit operates.  That is, to respect the disposition of the individual.  The reminiscence must take place in a natural way.  Otherwise harm can come to the individual.  This is one of the problems with the approach of psycho analysis and other practices which bypass natural reminiscence.

A simple method of doing this is to ask the question, “When have you felt like this before? Or “What does this remind you of?”  This allows the person to consider the present feeling and allow the memory to come into view.

The memory which causes the feeling is already in the imagination.  However, it is not in that part of the imagination which appears “visual” to us.  The imagination may be likened to a computer screen where the file has only so much data that is visible and the rest needs to be “scrolled” down in order to see.  However, the appetites can read the abstract form of the data that is in the imagination and if it contains the object of the appetite, the passions moves.

It is common for people to recognize the associations between the present and the past.  How many times has a marital squabble included a, “you remind me of my mother?”  So the simple questions about memory, “What does this remind you of?  When have you felt like this before?” allow someone to “scroll” down in there imagination.

For example, Mary and John have arguments because Mary feels that John criticizes her and thinks that she is an idiot.  John states that he has no such feelings or thoughts about Mary but rather has the highest respect for her education and intelligence.  When Mary was asked, “When have you ever felt like this before?” she answered that her family was very well educated and considered her to be the weak link.  Despite her high intelligence scores and academic prowess she was made to feel that her opinions were of little value because her family would always contradict her and dismiss her ideas.  Thus when John pointed out disagreements with anything that Mary would say, it played upon that previous disposition.  The counsel was:

  1. Mary and John needed to recognize that the emotion was related to the old wound.  It helped for Mary to stop and consider what her feelings reminded her of.
  2. Mary could then talk to John about how these memories affected her.
  3. John would naturally change somewhat when he began to understand how these hurtful memories magnified or even distorted the present experiences.
  4. His compassion for Mary came to the fore.
  5. Mary was to forgive the family
  6. Mary needed to try to understand that John’s intentions and actions were different than her families.
  7. John was to be understanding, loving and patient
  8. John was to be sensitive when discussing issues with Mary so that he expressed himself with the awareness that she could feel the effects of the old memories.  This was very important for Mary’s sake.
  9. Healing immediately began because Mary was able to separate the past experience from the present.  She could see that she was freed from the past.
  10. She could also see the kind understanding and patience of her husband and this created to new memory.
  11. The psychological wound of the memory which contained the injustice was altered by the forgiveness.
  12. Repetitions would be required for the memories to dissipate into insignificance.  Something that happens repeatedly over time as to cause psychological wounds does not easily change in the moment of insight.  Time, patience and love are called for.

[1] An example of this disregard took place in relation to an operation in California during the 70’s.  During the weekend encounter the individuals were confronted in such a way as to break down many of their defenses.  They felt the euphoria of the psychological purging and outpouring gave credibility to the experience.  However, a high rate of mental breakdowns took place in subsequent months for those who attended the weekend.

Willing and Attentive Listening

    Dr. Patrick J. DiVietri Ph.D. CPC, OCDS

Willing and attentive listening is the central dynamic of communication skills.  The primary concern is the speaker and what he or she is trying to communicate.  Listening enables one to see situations more clearly and thus help another person.

We know that one’s emotional disposition improves from being understood. When something is expressed its intensity lessens.  Solutions become clearer when someone else listens to the problem.

Good listening facilitates better understanding.  This enables someone to respond in a way that shows he/she understands.  New information and opinion are secondary to understanding what the other person is saying.

Listening expresses love for the other person.

Listening shows the importance and value of the other person.  It is a form of courtesy and respect.  We can easily see the therapeutic value that it has when we consider that the counseling profession is dominated by this one dynamic.  People come to a counselor so that they can find understanding.  The counselor listens with the major objective of grasping what the client is saying.  This principle dynamic begins to assuage the stress that the client is experiencing.  It helps when one can express themselves, can be understood by another, and that the other person can put that understanding into their own words.

Listening well acknowledges a respect for human dignity.

We can show that the person is worthy of our full attention and all else seems secondary at the moment.  When my son was very young he would approach his mother or me as we were focusing upon something else and want to talk to us.  However, he would not begin speaking until he had our full attention.  To accomplish this, he would place his little hands on both sides of our face and turn our heads toward him so that he could look us square in the eye.  If we slipped back, he would repeat this.  He tended not to do this in front of others so there wasn’t any reason to correct him for interrupting and he was so sincere and what he was asking for was simple.  “I want your attention. What I have to say is important.”  He was right.  It was important because he was important to me.

A further example is obvious to married couples.  If a woman has something to say, she is rarely impressed with her husband’s allocation of some cursory portion of his attention while he is preoccupied with the TV or the newspaper.  Women and children have a gift for reducing something to its simplest form.  “What is more important to you, what you are doing or me?”  “If it is me, then show it.”    However, when it comes to love and what is valued, actions still speak more loudly than words.  It is important to express one’s devotion with words but those words must be demonstrated through affection and actions.  The first act of love is attentiveness.

Active Listening

    Dr. Patrick J. DiVietri Ph.D. CPC, OCDS

Active listening is a very popular concept, which we often hear about.  A brief description of one approach is presented here for a point of reference and information.  Again we will find the components to be quite natural to a good listener.

Focus on the person and what is said; minimize outside distractions.

Watch the nonverbal expressions.  Ask yourself, “How is it said?” “What is the facial and body language?” Remember that it is difficult to put emotions into words.  Emotions are naturally expressed in body language and it is easy to misinterpret expressions and body language

Accept the person even when what is said is not accepted.  Understanding does not mean agreement with the other person is saying.  For example, one may understand how a person came to commit a crime but not agree with the decision or the rationalization. The acceptance is first toward who the person is and secondarily for what they do.  Eventually, though, we know that when what one does becomes habit and habit forms character and character defines what we have become.

Remain open-minded to what is being said even if you do not agree.   This allows you to hear more, consider and understand their point of view better.  It helps to look for the good in what one is saying or for those things that seem reasonable.  If one disagrees try to understand how the person came to the position that they hold or what good that person sees in their position.

Verify what you understand.  Do not presume and jump to conclusions based upon your own experience.  Don’t guess without verifying.  There is a danger of transferring your emotions into their meaning.  Therefore, try to confirm what you think is being said.  It is common for your perceptions/conclusions/emotions to differ.  People respond differently to the same stimuli.  It may help to repeat what the other says if necessary.  A natural response is to try to put what they are saying into your own words.  Sometimes say exactly what is said.

Look for positive interpretation.  Everyone acts intending some good so it helps to try to see other person’s point of view and meanings