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  • Writer's pictureDr. Vin

Compassionate Listening Recipe

Here is an adapted excerpt from my upcoming book, Communication Breakthrough: How Using Brain Science and Listening to Body Cues Can Transform Your Relationships. This part is about how to listen when another’s pain bothers you.

We all have times when other people’s pain makes us feel uncomfortable. So we often reach for ways to brush away our discomfort. How can we turn our hearts to a more compassionate stance to a person in pain? Take a breath and bring all your attention to the other person and let your ego concerns take a back seat for a while. How can we show a person that we’re interested in their feelings? Look the person in the eye with warmth and an attitude of receptivity. Nod while they’re sharing their feelings.

Here are specific steps to create a safe space for the person in pain to be heard:

1. Become aware of whatever defenses you may gravitate toward.

2. Put aside your discomfort by breathing slowly, listening to the speaker and letting them know you’re interested in their feelings.

3. As you breathe slowly, your heart will open to a more receptive stance. Imagine receiving the speaker into your heart.

4. Next, acknowledge the person’s pain by paraphrasing back to them what you’ve heard them say. For example, after a patient tells her surgeon that she’s devastated by her pregnancy loss the doctor could say, “I hear that you’re devastated by this loss, shocked, scared and broken hearted. I’m so sorry.”

5. After the initial compassionate listening (acknowledging and paraphrasing feelings), you can offer some additional responses to attend to the person in pain. Other compassionate responses could involve an offer of support like, “How can I help you through this?” or have the person to elaborate by asking, “Can you tell me more about it?” or reducing their isolation by saying something like, “Together we can get through this.”

APSERI – The Quick Way to Remember

Want a quick way to remember the five steps above?Just think APSERI

(Acknowledge and Paraphrase, Support, Elaborate, Reduce Isolation). You can write this acronym down before meeting with a person in pain if it helps you remember these parts of compassionate listening.

  • Acknowledge and Paraphrase: “I hear you say…”

  • Offer Support: “How can I help you through this?”

  • Ask them to Elaborate: “Tell me more about this.”

  • Reduce Isolation: “Together we can get through this.”

These have been notes on how to listen in a compassionate way to a person who is in pain. Communication Breakthrough will be available at on August 24, 2018.


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