Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Active Listening


Back in the day, when I left journalism behind and started down the road of social services, I took classes and went through training to help people open up so I could show them the path to self-healing. Hahahahahahahaha. No, seriously. I remember this one workshop I attended (people in the social service field are big into workshops) on active listening...

The facilitator, an impossibly tall man with the sort of suntan that had to have been painted on, role modeled active listening techniques.

"Have a seat, please," he said, waving to a chair opposite him.

I had decided to volunteer for the roleplay. I sat, as I always do, crossing my legs, and leaning back a bit. He sat, crossing his legs and leaning back. He asked me a question about my relationship with my mother (I suppose that mother/son relationships are such fertile territory that it's a MUST in role plays).

"Well, sometimes we argue. I think she tends to be manipulative." I shifted. He shifted.

"So you feel your mother tends to be manipulative?"

"Yeah," I said, uncrossing my legs, he uncrossing his legs.

"And how do you feel about that?" he asked.

"It annoys me," I replied.

"So it annoys you?" he asked.

I looked around, wondering if there was an echo. He looked around. I leaned back again, he leaned back again. I had this horrible Marx brothers' moment. For those who aren't in the field, he was "Mirroring". That's where the therapist mirrors the body language of the client. Of course, one should never be too obvious or else the client will follow you to your car after work and kill you. I called him on his mirroring and he said:

"Does my mirroring bother you?"

"Yes, it does?"

"So, if I hear you correctly, you're distracted by me mirroring your body language."

"Yes."

Active listening: mirroring body language, responding to verbal cues, rephrasing responses for to allow the speaker to elaborate or clarify, showing empathy. In "Silence of the Lambs" this is why Miggs, the guy in the cell next to Lecter, killed himself.

The facilitator smiled with perfect teeth. Handsome man. He smelled of watermelon. I have no idea.

"Do you think this distraction, or your pointing out this distraction, is a way for you to avoid talking about your relationship with your mother?" he asked.

"I think it's a way for me to avoid killing you," I thought, but responded:

"So, you're asking me if I'm using my distraction as a way to avoid talking about my relationship with my mother?" I asked.

"Yes."

"Yes?" I asked.

"Yes, do you think you're avoiding talking about your mother?"

"Do you think I'm avoiding talking about my mother?"

And with that he ended the role play. I went back to my seat and decided to practice oregami for the rest of the afternoon.

13 comments:

mist1 said...

I like role play too. Nothing involving my mother preferably.

Gene Siskel said...

I'd forgotten that Miggs killed himself. Thanks, Stewart.

ShadowFalcon said...

I thought Role play was ment to be fun you know I'm an elf your a thief....this isn't about dungeons and dragons is it?

miller580 said...

it took me two weeks to get that song "lotion" out of my head and with one mention of "Silence" boom its back!

You know its these little life experiences you have that make your writing so entertaining. Most of the world simply squeak through life but you grab hold and ride. Thanks for that story. I needed that.

Bimbo said...

That conversation hurt my brain.

SQT said...

Stewart, you probably made that man cry himself to sleep that night. Well, one can hope.

I've had workshops on mirroring too. I've never used it, but I like that I can recognize when it's being used on me. It does feel manipulative doesn't it?

Kate S said...

Ah, you've touched on one of my pet peeves here.

I recently interviewed a guy for a position where I work, and noticed he was mirroring me. There was another interviewer present, but the "interviewee" knew she had less say in whether he was hired, and I noticed he didn't mirror her. I wondered if it was deliberate, so I started making subtle shifts in my position whenever he was looking at her.

Sure enough, as soon as he was done talking to her, he'd look at me and immediately assume the new position. I didn't know whether to applaud his cleverness, or despise his sneaky brown-nosing. (:

(Just for the record, in the end I did recommend him - his other skills were too good to pass up.)

Stewart Sternberg said...

mist, the roleplay I think you are alluding involves silly putty and a spatula.

Mr. Siskel (who I miss enormously)one of the creepiest moments in Silence of the Lambs was when one realized Lecter could get so deeply inside someone's mind.

Ah shadow...well, to be honest, that roleplay you mention tends to be more fun and I've engaged in my share.

Mr. Miller, you are welcome. When the hell are you going to start blogging again? And I say that fondly.

Bimbo, I understand.

SQT and KATE, to be honest I've deliberately used mirroring when dealing with kids and at times when dealing with adults in a professional capacity.

I can't bitch too much about workshops, considering that I went through a period when I was doing workshops on groupwork around the state. Still, they tend to be a bit much, and the ones for education have been the worst.

Susan Miller said...

Hr clearly deserved that, Stu. Good for you.

Sphinx Ink said...

Ha ha, that's great. I once spoke to a psychologist and noticed he was mirroring me. So I started mirroring him. I'm not sure he realized it.

I figure mirroring only works when the other party doesn't realize it's going on!

Stewart Sternberg said...

Thank you Sue...I went into therapy a while back and had to find someone who was good..I figured it was going to take a major brain to cut through my manipulative bullcrap.

Claire said...

Thanks for the visit last week, i have only just got back my internet connection (god damn internet providers!). So now its taking me a while to visit everybody and delete all the spam emails i managed to accumulate in a week.
I struggle with active listening in my counselling studies, some of it is useful and some not.
I am glad i brought back some good memories.

spyscribbler said...

ROFLMAO, Stewart. You should have a warning sign posted on you when you go to a workshop: Ask for Volunteers at Your Own Risk, Your Very Certain Risk.

You totally crack me up!