How to Listen: Ask... Then Listen

are you listening?

When you ask someone a personal question, do you sit back and listen to their response without any interruptions? Or do you fill in the waiting period with more questions and other talking?

Most of us would right away say that we are like the first type of person or at least we want to be. Oddly enough, most people are like the second and don’t realize it.

Taking the Time to Listen to What Others are Saying

Recently we were doing an intensive workshop with a small group and they become very close to one another. One of the men in the group was asked a question by one of the women.

The question held a deep emotional charge for this man. I watched as he took a deep breath and very slowly began to answer the question and then paused as he was collecting his thoughts. He clearly wasn’t finished. The woman asked another question, which she felt would help him. The man became silent and soon others were asking him more questions. Each person felt that the way they phrased the question would be able to help him.

I suggested that everyone just be quiet and let him take all the time he needed to answer the question. The room became totally silent for a period of several minutes. Gradually, the man began to speak again with many pauses. The longer he spoke without the interruption of more questions, the deeper he got until finally he clearly spoke his deepest truth about the question that was asked.

Giving Others the Time They Need to Answer a Question

There are many people, usually men but also some women, who need a lot of time to answer a question, especially when feelings are involved. If they are pushed or interrupted they will just be quiet and not answer at all. The silence allows them to go to the bottom of their well and bring up a richness of truth.

I remember a time when our son came home from his first day of 6th grade. This was a big change for him because now he would have several different teachers rather than one and would be changing classrooms. I wanted to hear all about it.

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How to Listen: Ask... Then ListenAs soon as he walked in the door I sat him down to his favorite cookies, fresh out of the oven, and asked how his day went. As he sat there eating the cookies and thinking about the question, I asked him another question, “Did you like changing classes?” There was more silence and so I started asking more questions. “Did you like your English teacher? Is the new Spanish teacher nice? When does volleyball season start? Are you going on a class trip this year?” After each question was silence.

Finally he got up and said, “Thanks so much for the cookies Mama. I think I’ll start on my homework; there are just too many questions for me.”

Taking Time to Listen to the Answer?

I sat there for a while feeling disappointed. I had really wanted to hear about our son’s first day of 6th grade. Then I realized I had been the only one talking. Rather than asking a question and just listening to whatever came out of that, I filled in the time with question after question and probably tired him out with all the input.

The next time he came home from school, I asked one question and just sat there and listened. There was silence for awhile, and then gradually the answer started coming out and, the more I remained quiet, the more he talked.

Ask A Question, Then Stop and Listen

As an experiment, try asking a question to someone you love. Sometimes it helps to get their attention first with something like, “Is this a good time to ask you something?” If their answer is yes, go ahead and ask your question. Then just sit back and listen, allowing the person to take all the time they need to answer.

There might be a long silence or pauses, but rather than fill in the space with more questions and talking, just be quiet and listen. Even if you are uncomfortable with the silence, just be quiet and listen. If you are patient enough, your loved one will open up and speak and this will be a gift to both of you.

Article written by the co-author of the book:

This article was excerpted from the book: A Mother's Final Gift by Joyce & Barry Vissell.A Mother’s Final Gift: How One Woman’s Courageous Dying Transformed Her Family
by Joyce and Barry Vissell.

Click here for more info and/or to order this book.

About the Author(s)

Joyce & Barry VissellJoyce & Barry Vissell, a nurse/therapist and psychiatrist couple since 1964, are counselors, near Santa Cruz CA, who are passionate about conscious relationship and personal-spiritual growth. They are widely regarded as among the world's top experts on conscious relationship and personal growth. Joye & Barry are the authors of 9 books, including The Shared Heart, Models of Love, Risk To Be Healed, The Heart’s Wisdom, Meant To Be, and A Mother’s Final Gift. Call 831-684-2299 for further information on counseling sessions by phone/video, online, or in person, their books, recordings or their schedule of talks and workshops. Visit their web site at for their free monthly e-heartletter, their updated schedule, and inspiring past articles on many topics about relationship and living from the heart.


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