The power of being listened to safely

Thanks to my wife, we discovered Hand in Hand Parenting a while back and did their starter class. This proved to be a great thing and precipitated some pretty big changes that have improved our family life. Hand in Hand gives a set of tools for parenting, including one focussed on parents: listening partnerships.

The basic idea of listening partnerships is that it is a safe place to share and explore your feelings. This is a highly simplified description and I’d recommend you read Emilie’s article as she gives a great description.

I’m going to be honest, when I first found out about listening partnerships I didn’t really get them. Sure, it was kind of nice to be able to rant about how hard parenting is etc, but it took me a while to really start to figure listening partnerships out. (If you didn’t read Emilie’s article then go read it now as there’s a bunch of stuff in there that I think would have really helped me if I’d been able to read it sooner!)

Anyway, it turns out that listening partnerships are a big deal.

In short, a listening partnership (LP) is between two people and each takes a turn to talk for an agreed time.

Yes, it’s a simple idea. But having that safe space to offload is a big deal.

If you’re just talking, what’s the big deal? Where’s the safety?

Firstly, there’s confidentiality; what’s said in LP isn’t shared with anyone. But it’s stronger than that; what is said in one person’s listening time isn’t spoken about after the timer has gone off, even with your listening partner. It’s like it’s sealed in that time (unless the person who shared it brings it up). Looking back, I realise that I’ve really valued this aspect. I can dig into emotional topics and then park it once the timer goes off until the next time I’m ready to talk about it; it really helps to feel safe and in control.

Another aspect of LPs it that when you’re talking the other person is listening warmly and supportively. There’s no judgement, just an assumption that you’ve got this; that with that supportive presence you will work through it yourself. There are no suggestions and no advice; either of those imply judgement in some form and take away from the notion that you can handle it. It may sound like a small thing, but how often do you get a chance to express something without comment? I’ve found it very freeing. Also, the lack of judgement means that you can talk about any issue regardless of how “big” or “small” you feel that it is. Either is fine… no judgement!

Then there’s the fact that it’s reciprocal; you each get a turn to speak and a turn to listen. It gives a sense of equality. Neither person is in a more powerful position.

Lastly, there’s the timer! For me, having it time-bounded adds to the safety. There’s a limit there and I’ve found that helpful. If I’m digging into something emotional I feel comfortable to immerse myself knowing that the timer will go off. Almost like a lifeline to pull me back out until next time. I think the timer also reinforces the sense that the exchange in LP is equal.

When you get this kind of safety and have someone holding space for you to explore your thoughts and feelings, it’s a very powerful process. It can feel a bit odd at first as it’s not what we’re used to, but it is really quite liberating and I come away feeling much lighter. For me, the safety of the space really enables this.

And while listening partnerships were part of a parenting course, you don’t have to limit it to only parenting topics, and I don’t! :-)

If you’re like I was and don’t really feel like you get what a listening partnership is about, hopefully this helps give another perspective. If you’re new to the idea, maybe you would like to find out more and give it a try. Regardless, I have found listening partnerships to be hugely beneficial to me!

Some links for more information on listening partnerships and holding space:

Posted on 03 October 2017

hand-in-hand  listening partnerships