When you are having a conversation, how often do you listen? I mean TRULY listen, not listen to formulate your next sentence. How often do you listen just to hear the other person?
If you are like the majority of people the answer is “hardly ever.” Deep listening (listening for the sake of listening) is one of the most valuable communication skills you can ever learn because it shows the person you are conversing with that you care.
By listening for the sake of listening you validate their emotional feelings and help them feel connected and less isolated and alone.
For people with Asperger’s, being deeply listened to provides a space to process emotions WITHOUT getting freaked out by them, shutting down and going into Defense Mode (which is what usually happens).
In all of our conversations with families, caregivers, doctors, teachers, therapists and people with Asperger’s, we’ve found that the #1 thing that most people with Asperger’s are severely lacking in is simply someone who will truly listen to them without judgement.
Someone who can hold the space for them (so that they can finally be with their sensations and process).
So here’s how to perform Deep Listening:
You look at the person, or close to them. You give them your attention. Make time for this, as it does take time. Make sure you’re not hungry or physically uncomfortable, because that makes it significantly harder.
You hear what they have to say. You hear it without getting your own messages tied up in their words. You process their words in terms of their experiences and accept that that is how they feel. You don’t have to do anything but hear it, accept it as a piece of their personal experience and hold space for them.
Without judgement. Without trying to tell them how they should feel. Without trying to fix. Without trying to make it all better. (This is hard for people, so heads up).
Listen and allow. Let them be who they are in the moment, and be the safe place for them.
Validate what they are feeling, empathize with them and connect on a deep emotional level. (You may need to practice holding space for yourself and being with your own emotions first, because this can be exhausting the first time you do it).
Validating is telling people that it makes sense for those feelings to be there, and that you accept them. You don’t have to agree or disagree. You don’t have to do anything but mirror their message. Empathizing is demonstrating that you can understand why someone in that position could feel that way. Only do that if you genuinely can. If you can’t understand, then you reflect back to them that you can’t imagine what that would be like, and you accept it anyway.
Connecting on a deep emotional level actually occurs naturally when you are allowing them the space to be themselves, and you are free to just reflect what they are communicating. It is at that point that people feel much safer and their guards begin to come down. That’s scary, and it’s important to not judge in this moment.
If the discussion has two sides, such as in conflict, then people can take turns holding space. One person gets to communicate and feel heard, and then once they feel heard, the other person gets to speak about their experiences. It can be difficult to switch roles, and often takes practice.
Done appropriately, this is one of the best gifts you can give someone. A gift of true time, space & attention.
For more about communication, read our article on the 3 essentials of effective communication.