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I knew an innovative middle school teacher who wrote the word JUDGMENT in bold letters on a large poster board and hung it from the ceiling in her classroom. The first day of school, her students were intrigued. They had a lively discussion about their teacher’s message and her intention for how she would like them to treat each other. Her message, they concluded: “In this classroom, we suspend judgment of one another.” She then proceeded to write on the blackboard the one word of instruction on how to achieve her lesson: LISTEN.

The ability to listen empathically is a trait we can acquire!

Just think of the implications of her cryptic, but highly effective teaching method. Think about the conflicts at home, at work, at our places of worship, in our neighborhoods (in Congress!) that could be avoided if we suspended our judgments first, and then followed with deep listening that focused fully on what the other person was trying to tell us?

Studies have found that those who have a difficult time listening, especially people who repeatedly interrupt conversations, are up to seven times more likely to develop heart disease. When researchers asked the test subjects to focus on being silent and attentive while others talked, however, these subjects lowered both their blood pressure and their stress hormone levels.

More good news: The ability to listen empathically is a trait we can acquire! The exercises we use involve completely focusing our attention on the person speaking—not just on their words, but also on their body language. We suspend our judgments. We wait until they have finished speaking and then we reflect back to them what we do or do not understand, asking for clarification. We don’t just listen once. We repeat the cycle of open-minded, open-hearted listening, clarifying, and reflecting back again, as many times as needed, until we are able to close any perceptual gaps separating us.

With steadfast intention and dedicated practice, our listening muscle will grow stronger, supporting us in our ongoing, communal need for connections that increase our emotional intimacy with one another. There is nothing more heartwarming than having another say, after we have poured our heart out to them—“I hear you.”

Related Video play

This beautiful 6-minute practice video will immerse you in the warmth of heart-to-heart listening, and the peace, harmony, and strength that comes from being heard. What conflict could you have avoided if you had listened better?

Contributed by

Mimi O' Connor
Group Support Specialist

Hearts linked, together we heal…

Better Health Begins With You...

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