What are the blocks when we are trying to help?   Why is listening so hard?

Listening is very hard. Often we say: “you are not listening to me”, “you don’t understand me” etc…

The skills are for inter-personal development, to build healthy friendship, community building, leadership, formation ministry, spiritual direction, counselling, and so on… We talk about the relationship between a helper and a helpee.

In helping, we don’t give advice. We don’t solve problems for others. People generally have resources in themselves to solve their problems. And When I listen to a person’s story I don’t make judgements in mind or in words.

A trusting relationship has to be formed. It will happen when the person knows that he/her will be accepted despite their story. Warmth, trust, genuineness, respect, openness are created by the helper, superior/leader, counsellor, director. Challenge at the right time, has its place in this relationship.

A radical change involves change from the roots and this requires change at all the levels:

  • Cognitive – Rational level: thoughts, beliefs, ideals values, attitudes, perspectives
  • Affective – Emotional level
  • Behaviour – external actions level

We don’t have to use skills but we have to become skilled persons. We don’t use listening skills but we become listening persons. We don’t use empathic skills but become empathic persons. Ministry flows out of our own growth. We share what we learn. If the mission comes from personal growth there is no burn-out.

Jn 10,10           “I have come that they may have life and have it to the full”

Lk 9, 23-25     Renounce yourself and take up your cross. Renounce the false self and let               go so that in losing the false self I become free.

Col 3, 1-5; Rm 12,2. We may be rejected, scorned, etc… but we can be counter-cultural doing God’s will. Living as God wants me to be.

Communication skills


Listening skills

                                                                 Active listening

Attending: = Quality of my presence to the client; it disposes me to listen actively.

The person must feel that I am there for him/her and my time it’s all for him/her. This is their time and their space and I am here to listen to him/her.

Sit in front of the person with nothing in between to look to him/her. You must see the person. The body communicates a lot, the body speaks. Look at the person in the eyes because they talk more than other parts of the body.

Active listening

Being listened to is a fundamental human need and it is the essence of any communication and relationship. When you listen to me it means you are with me and interested in me; you value, respect and care for me; you are willing to listen to and understand my story, my feelings, as I am. It helps me to listen to myself, to understand and accept myself and this in turn, helps me to listen to others and to God.

Active listening is verbal and non verbal.


Active listening

                                                   Non verbal

1. Listening to and under-standing the non-verbal behaviour

2. Listening to and under-standing the verbal message

Active listening

3. Listening to and under-standing the client in his/her context

                                     4. Client-minded listening

Verbal message can be: Experience, Behaviour, Affect, Beliefs/thoughts. When a client tell us a story all that is mixed up. We need to distinguish them.


Obstacles to listening
  1. a.Inadequate listening
  2. b.Evaluative listening
  3. c.Filtered listening
  4. d.Learning as a filter
  5. e.Rehearsing
  6. f.Sympathy
  7. g.Interrupting

“…Attending and listening means to lay aside your own self, and being totally present to the person. It can be done only by those who are secure in themselves…”

Carl Rogers

ü  Am I able to read the non-verbal behaviour?

ü  Do I distinguish between Experience, Behaviour, Thoughts/Beliefs and Affect?

ü  Can I listen beyond the client’s verbal messages and listen to the person in his/her context?


Listening is creative and contemplative.

Gen. 2,3: God ‘rested’. Resting is active contemplation. The need for interior silence.

Jesus as listener – Lk. 2,46 “…sitting among the teachers, listening…” He listened to God’s call, to people. Lk. 4.1-13 / Mt. 4, 1-11 / Mk 1,12-13. The inner struggle to listen to God. Felt the pull to security, to power… His temptations. Discernment in desolation and consolation… Can we listen to our loneliness? Can we listen to the uncertainty of our life? Can we listen to the insecurity?

Jesus listened deeply to nature, the fields, birds, the seas,…

In the Bible – “Listen” 300 times, “listened” 56, “listener” only once.

Garden of Gethsemane – …Listening and owning the pain – Thus freed himself through the pain and anxiety. Jesus’ own feeling of abandonment and rejection – led to complete surrender. Listening is not just a skill, but a prayer, contemplation. Not easy… it is doing violence to ourselves. Listening heals… It is a presence.


Responding Skills



Listening skills


                             Active listening    


                                                                             A way of being


     A communication skill

Responding Skills



To the listening skills you have the responding skills. Empathy is both a listening and responding skill. Empathy is a way of being and a communication skill. There are three important elements in empathy.




          communicate the understanding

Some “do’s” and “don’t’s”:

-Don’t contradict, use short responses – accurate and pointed.

-Don’t mimic the client. If you don’t know what to say, communicate your helplessness.

-Don’t use “cliché’s”

-Avoid generalisations: “My house is destroyed by fire” “Oh, so many houses…)”

-Avoid the interpretations.

-Don’t give advice. – A mistake made by priests and religious.

          Don’t pretend to understand, when you don’t. Be sincere. Repeating back doesn’t always help.

          Sympathy instead of empathy is out of place.


The art of exploring – the three ways.

  1. 1)Questions: who, what, how, where, when, – open questions.
  2. 2)Statements: eg., I can see you are upset. It would help me if you could clarify…
  3. 3)Interjections: and, then, because, but,…

Emotions are Impulses to Action: They are instant plans for handling life. The root word of emotion in Latin = motere suggests to move away, implying a tendency to act in every emotion. Each emotion prepares the body for different kinds of responses.

Anger: blood flows to the hands, making it easier to grasp a weapon or strike a foe, heart rate increases and rush of horomones such as adrenaline generates a pulse of energy strong enough for vigorous action. With fear blood goes to the large skeletal muscles, such as the legs, making it easier to flee….





Mental function





Usually behaviour is caused by the emotions. To be mature and integrated we need a balance between the mental functions: affective and cognitive. Even if I repress my emotions I react with my behaviour; that is the result of emotions.

Inter personal relations are hurt and we become rigid if emotions are frozen or repressed. If you are not in touch with your feelings it affects your spiritual life. Emotions in themselves are neither good nor bad, they are neutral. They are God given. They are given to survive and live.

The church has taken this way of thinking: Spirit vs matter. What is related to Spirit is good, what is related with body is bad (e.g., sexuality is bad). Suppression of emotions leads to physical illness. Emotions is a God given energy, if suppressed it finds a way of escape through muscular pain, body pain, etc…

How to deal with emotions


  1. 1.Get in touch with emotions
  2. 2.Identify what is the emotion (you can have mixed emotions)
  3. 3.Name it
  4. 4.Own it (I am angry; I am sad; etc…) Speak about it or write, play music… do something about it to put the energy of the emotion out of you.

If it cannot be resolved it needs professional help.

Emotions work underneath our decisions. Most decisions are influenced by unconscious emotions. A lot of conscious mental functions are from our unconscious desires and emotions. We think we are making rational decisions but emotions are always present.


The road to inner journey is the road of emotions. The emotions are not a block. But unchecked, unexplored, unnamed emotions can be a block. “Offering up to God” can be a mode of repression. The ability to know, to get in touch with and express them is a sign of mental health. E.g. “Slamming the door in anger can be out of unconscious, unnamed anger…”


The Gospels portray Jesus with intense emotions:


Jn 11,33-36     Jesus wept for Lazarus with Marta and Mary. Openly cries for his   friends. Jesus is the Word became flesh. He is human.

Lk 7, 13          Jesus is sorry for the widow.

Mk 1, 41          Moved with compassion for the leper

Lk 13,34          Feel pity for Jerusalem

Mk 3,5            Feel compassion for the sick

Mk 10,14         Indignant because of the children sent away

Lk 10,21          Rejoiced in Spirit

Lk 22,15          Eagerly decided to eat the passover with the disciples

Mt 8,10           He marvelled

Mt 23                         Jesus vs. Pharisees and scribes

Lk 12,49          I have come to bring fire

Mt 26,21         One of you will betray me

Jn 15,9             …         Remain in my love

Jn 13-17          Farewell discourse. Love is used 32 time and several emotionally                  

                       charged words.

Mt 26,36-46    Gethsemane: loneliness, fear, anxiety and sadness

Mt 27,46         at Calvary… feeling of abandonment, emptiness. Surrender in love.





                                                 -Physical / Biological


                                                 -Intellectual / Cognitive

Wholeness implies

       Growth                    -Emotional / Affective




                                                   -Moral / Values