Gift of just listening

Just listening to a person who has diabetes can be a truly valuable gift; just listening means we listen without judging, advising or problem solving. When we listen this way to a person with diabetes we convey concern, respect, and recognition that their experience is unique. One of the ways we know that others care about us is by how interested and concerned they are about our trials and tribulations. Offering the gift of just listening means we listen to others because we care about them and want to understand what they think and feel. When we really listen to another without expressing our opinions or offering advice we send them a powerful message. We are saying in effect "I care about we. What’s important to you is important to me."

Also when we just listen to another person we free them from the need to describe their experience in a particular way to avoid our criticism and win our approval. When someone with diabetes knows we will accept whatever they say, they do not have to worry about talking about their diabetes in a certain way to avoid being judged. In addition, when we listen non-judgmentally to others they can begin to truly listen to themselves. Just listening to others creates opportunities for them to have new insights their feelings and attitudes toward their diabetes. Insights often help people solve problems and reveal new possibilities. For example, one of our patients described her difficulty with her new four shots a day insulin regimen to a friend who just listened. After listening to herself describe her situation she realized that she was having trouble because she was angry with her doctor for changing her regimen from one shot a day to four shots. Once she realized that her trouble stemmed from her anger she was able to resolve the issue by discussing her feelings with her doctor.

There are two reasons why we see so few examples of others just listening in everyday life. The first reason is that in most conversations people usually listen some of the time and speak some of the time. In normal conversation people often devote more attention to planning what they will say next rather than listening attentively to what the other person is saying. The second reason that just listening is rare in everyday conversation is because people often respond to what another person says by offering their opinion or giving advice. This usually leads the speaker to focus on the other person’s opinions or advice rather than just on describing their thoughts and feelings. Good listeners are appreciated and are usually sought out by other people.

Any one of us can be a good listener once we make up our mind to do so. We just have to take off our everyday conversation hat and put on our good listener hat. People who have diabetes often tell us that they have very few opportunities to talk about what’s it’s like to live with diabetes to another person who will just listen but not offer opinions or advice. If we wish to give the gift of just listening to a person with diabetes we can ask questions like "What’s the hardest part of living with diabetes?" or "What do you wish other people would understand about what’s like to have diabetes?" Once the person begins to answer the questions, we need to promise ourselves that we will not express advice, opinions or judgments. We will just listen and ask questions that invite the person to tell more of the story. When we are truly listening to another person such questions arise naturally from our curiosity and concern. For example when someone describes a troubling situation we could say, "Tell me how that feels to we?" or ask, "How would we like the situation to be?" The specific questions are not nearly as important as the willingness to just listen. If we offer the gift of just listening to someone, we may be amazed at the results.
Robert M. Anderson, Ed.D.
University of Michigan Medical School
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-0200
education > teaching the educator