Just Listen

Just Listen

Episode: 041

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Hello and welcome to the Overflow podcast. My
name’s Craig Booker. The title of this episode

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is Just Listen. The material in this episode
is inspired by seeing by Will Hutson and Chinwé

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Williams. Note: I will talk a lot about mental
health, but please note this is not a substitute

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for therapy or mental health care. The title of
this episode is Just Listen. In this episode we

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talking about just listen I can remember the time
in my childhood when as El elementary students we

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would have regular time on the playground with
our friends and inevitably someone in our friend

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group or another group would say something quite
hurtful often times this was the result of being

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hurt by the action or inaction of another peer
in the group The response from most kids in that

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generation would go something like this sticks and
stones will break my bones but words will never

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hurt me the Sticks and Stones phrase so proudly
held by many kids could not be further from the

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truth as kids teens and eventually adults we
learn just how much our words have the power

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to uplift as well as tear down when people are
hurt whether by friends foes or someone we love

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it can easily result in US lashing out at another
unsuspecting individual this occurrence is often

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portrayed by the popular phrase hurting people
hurt people in the book scene by Will Hutcherson

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and chenway Williams they say that when we are
in distress our responses our words and actions

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may hurt others around us this makes sense when
you look at how the brain is wired the specific

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wiring mentioned here is our internal alert
system known as the amydala the amydala is the

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part of our brain that tells us when we might be
in danger when our brain detects danger it floods

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the body with a stress hormone called cortisol
this process helps our bodies kick into high

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gear to steer us out of a dangerous situation
the authors of scen say that when a teenager is

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in despair their amygdala is activated likewise
as adults our Amiga might be activated when we

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experience despair anytime our alert system is
activated it can be challenging to think clearly

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will and Chin way say that this activation of
the migdala creates two challenges number one

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is for the person in despair number two is for
the person trying to support them and I want to

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add some caution here the person in despair will
often unintentionally say things that are unkind

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this can create a challenge for them and others
around them for anyone around them trying to be

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supportive it is important to approach them with
empathy remember that their words may come from

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Despair and be mindful not to be triggered by what
they say be a good listener when trying to help

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support someone it can be challenging to sit and
actively listen with empathy if you have ever been

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placed in a room in close proximity to others
facing them it can be hard not to try and fill

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the awkward silence in the book will describes an
exercise where he had a mom and daughter face each

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other hold hands and lock eyes for 2 minutes will
describes the first minute as weird the daughter’s

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shoulders were tense and he describes them as in
a Shrugged position after 1 minute the daughter’s

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shoulders began to relax as the daughter began to
feel safe she started to open up if this exercise

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sounds odd I get it it illustrates what it can
often take to break the cycle of bad listening

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if we’re going to try to actively listen with
empathy if we’re going to try to be a good

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listener there are some things that we should
do one we should direct all of our focus on the

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other person two we should get the other person
talking three we should avoid trying to fix the

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situation will recommends three things talking
less watching your tone and making eye contact

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will talks about incorporating eye contact into
your day daily routine as parents here are some

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of Will’s examples on how to do that when your kid
walks into the room stop what you’re doing look

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at them and let them know you’re happy to see them
before they walk out the door in the morning pause

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look at them for 30 seconds and say I love you I
believe in you and no matter what I am for you at

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the dinner table look into their eyes as they talk
about their day when you see them off to bed or

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tuck them in at night make eye contact as you say
good night and offer encouragement some additional

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recommendations from will connect through touch
mirror what they say and avoid cliches first

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we’ll we’ll talk on connect through touch so
appropriate physical touch is one of the most

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powerful ways to connect with others when it comes
to appropriate physical touch it is important to

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pay attention to how the person is responding
if they seem uncomfortable it is time to adjust

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your approach next mirror what they say will
Begins the section by talking about a technique

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intended for couples from the book getting the
love you want by Harville Hendrick he says even

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though this material was meant for couples the
principles still apply when talking with kids or

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teenagers some examples of this could be what I
hear you saying is and then finish the sentence

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another example would be that sounds rough I can
understand how you might feel that way when your

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responses show that you’re seeking to understand
it shows the other person you are listening

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intently avoid cliches we all have them and tend
to use them in our Day phrases that we have come

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to depend on that help us describe our world while
it is fine to use them in many circumstances there

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are also appropriate times to leave them out
of the conversation when it comes to speaking

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to others about the challenges they are facing it
is a good idea to leave your cliches out of this

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conversation some examples of common cliches to
avoid how are you you’ll get over this everything

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happens for a reason why did this happen or why
do I feel this way you’ll get over this in no time

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or you’ll feel better soon you should see what I
have have to deal with this is no big deal don’t

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cry some of these may sound innocent enough but
when you think about how they come across from

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the point of view of someone that is hurting
and needing help they can seem insensitive so

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how are you could be not really specific enough
uh you’ll get over this seems to diminish the

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person’s feelings everything happens for a reason
is is very much a canned response and lack empathy

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for what the other person is going through um
asking why questions uh makes it really difficult

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because often there may not be a direct answer uh
insisting that people will get over this in time

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or they’re going to feel better soon that often
seems insensitive because you’re not acknowledging

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the pain they are feeling right now in the moment
you should see what I have to deal with is making

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it about you instead of about them and saying
this is no big deal is again diminishing what

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they are going through insisting that they don’t
cry is telling them not to feel the feelings they

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have so there is a reason that we use cliches
they fill the gaps and they help us to try and

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explain what we are going through or feeling they
help us describe our world the problem is is that

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they often will cause those hurting to feel unseen
which is the direct opposite of what we’re trying

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to do it it could make them feel like they are a
bother it also tends to diminish their feelings

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instead we should use words that communicate that
that we are listening with empathy it’s okay to

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experience silence sometimes the kindest thing
you can do is to be intentionally present with

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someone who is hurting we learned in a previous
chapter that one of the most important things

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we can do is to show up we combine this with
taking time to to authentically see them and

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what they’re experiencing and feeling and we do
our best to implement a lot of these techniques

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to just listen that’s all for this episode thank
you for watching if you like the video give us a

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thumbs up and be sure to subscribe so
you don’t miss out on future episodes

Show Notes

Just Listen

I can remember the time in my childhood when, as elementary students, we would have regular time on the playground with our friends. Inevitably, someone in our friend group or another group would say something quite hurtful. Oftentimes, this was the result of being hurt by the action or inaction of another peer in the group. The response from most kids in that generation would go something like this, “Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”

The sticks and stones phrase so proudly held by many kids could not be further from the truth. As kids, teens, and, eventually, adults, we learn just how much words have the power to uplift as well as tear down. When people are hurt, whether by friends, foes, or someone we love, it can easily result in us lashing out at another unsuspecting individual. This occurrence is often portrayed by the popular phrase, “Hurting people hurt people.”

In the book Seen, by Will Hutcherson and Chinwé Williams say that “when we are in distress, our responses, words, and actions may hurt others around us. This makes sense when you look at how the brain is wired.” The specific wiring mentioned here is our internal alert system known as the amygdala.

The Amygdala

The amygdala is the part of our brain that tells us when we might be in danger. When our brain detects danger, it floods the body with a stress hormone called cortisol. This process helps our bodies kick into high gear to steer us out of a dangerous situation.

The authors of Seen say that when a teen is in despair, their amygdala is activated. Likewise, as adults, our amygdala might be activated when experiencing despair. Anytime our alert system is activated, it can be challenging to think clearly.

Will and Chinwé say that this activation of the amygdala creates two challenges.

    1. For the person in despair.

    1. For the person trying to support them.

Caution

The person in despair will often unintentionally say things that are unkind. This can create a challenge for them and others around them. For anyone around them trying to be supportive, it is important to approach them with empathy. Remember that their words may come from despair, and be mindful not to be triggered by what they say.

Be a Good Listener

When trying to help support someone, it can be challenging to sit and actively listen with empathy.
If you have ever been placed in a room in close proximity to others facing them it can be hard not to try and fill the awkward silence.

In the book, Will describes an exercise where he had a mom and daughter face each other, hold hands, and lock eyes for two minutes. Will describes the first minute as “weird.” The daughter’s shoulders were tense and he describes them as “in a shrugged position.” After one minute, the daughter’s shoulders began to relax. As the daughter began to feel safe, she started to open up.

If this exercise sounds odd, I get it. It illustrates what it can often take to break the cycle of bad listening.

Direct all of your focus on the other person.
Get the other person talking
Avoid trying to fix the situation.

Will recommends:
-Talking less
-Watching your tone
-Make eye contact

Will talks about incorporating eye contact into your daily routine as parents.

Here are Will’s examples:

    • When your kid walks into the room, stop what you’re doing, look at them, and let them know you are happy to see them.

    • Before they walk out the door in the morning, pause, look at them for 30 seconds, and say, “I love you. I believe in you. And no matter what, I am for you!”

    • At the dinner table, look into their eyes as they talk about their day.

    • When you see them off to bed or tuck them in at night, make eye contact as you say goodnight and offer encouragement.

Some additional recommendations from Will:

    • Connect through touch

    • Mirror what they say

    • Avoid clichés

Connect Through Touch

Appropriate physical touch is one of the most powerful ways to connect with others.

When it comes to appropriate physical touch it is important to pay attention to how the person is responding. If they seem uncomfortable, it is time to adjust your approach.

Mirror What They Say

Will begins this section by talking about a technique intended for couples from the book Getting the Love You Want, by Harville Hendrix. He says that even though this material was meant for couples, the principles still apply when talking with kids or teenagers.

Some examples of this could be:
“What I hear you saying is…”
“That sounds rough; I can understand how you might feel that way.”

When your responses show that you are seeking to understand, it shows the other person you are listening intently.

Avoid Clichés

We all have them and tend to use them in our day. Phrases that we have come to depend on that help us to describe our world. While it is fine to use them in many circumstances, there are also appropriate times to leave them out of the conversation. When it comes to speaking to others about the challenges they are facing, it is a good idea to leave your clichés out of this conversation.

Common Clichés to Avoid

“How are you?”
“You’ll get over this.”
“Everything happens for a reason.”
“Why did this happen?” Or “Why do I feel this way?”
“You’ll get over this in no time.” Or “You’ll feel better soon.”
“You should see what I have to deal with.”
“This is no big deal.”
“Don’t cry.”

There is a reason we use clichés. They fill gaps and help to try and explain what we are going through or feeling. The problem is that they often will cause those hurting to feel unseen. It could make them feel like they are a bother. It also tends to diminish their feelings.

Instead, use words that communicate that you are listening with empathy. It’s okay to experience silence. Sometimes, the kindest thing you can do is to be intentionally present with someone who is hurting. We learned in a previous chapter that one of the most important things we can do is to show up. We combine this with taking time to see them. And we do our best to just listen.

Sources

[1] Hutcherson, W., & Williams, C. (2021). Seen: Healing Despair and Anxiety in Kids and Teens Through the Power of Connection.

Last updated on: 01/19/2024

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