I suspect that the most basic and powerful way to connect to another person is to listen. Just listen. Perhaps the most important thing we ever give each other is our attention. . . . When people are talking, there’s no need to do anything but receive them. . . . Listen to what they’re saying. Care about it. Most times caring about it is even more important than understanding it. . . . A loving silence often has far more power to heal and connect than the most well-intentioned words.
– Rachel Naomi Remen
As a minister, I am expected to know what to say to a person, especially in times of turmoil. This can be a little daunting at times! What I have found is that my best words are to issue an invitation to be heard. (Being very careful not to offer advice unless it is requested!)
When someone is deeply heard, the processes of healing can begin. New connections and new shifts of focus are often made. Their experience is validated. Last year I was deeply heard by several good friends about trauma from my past. It was deeply liberating to the point that I am now able to acknowledge the events of that part of my past without a lot of the emotional baggage.
How do we deeply listen? This is my approach. First, I try to listen without thinking of a response, processing in a non-judgmental way. Then I may ask questions of clarification or feeling (but as Dr. Remen mentions above, caring is more often more important than understanding!) If it is appropriate, a light touch, or holding hands in silence is a powerful way to convey your care. Depending upon the situation, I may ask how I can best help them, however, in many cases there is very little to be done but listen. Closing a conversation with a prayer can be very therapeutic, but I always ask permission first.
I do a lot of work with adolescents, and found that simply listening is often the best way to communicate. Not a lot of people listen deeply to adolescents, so when you do, the connection can be profound! A great example of how listening can be the deepest form of communication.
Reverend David G. Hunt