The last article I wrote on Listening Differently involved ‘listening from a position of not knowing.’ In this short piece I talked about listening with the intention of curiosity and wonder. In this next piece I’d like to focus on listening for the untold story which perhaps goes a bit deeper.

If you think about it, we’ve all learned to communicate in the context of our families and communities. I might learn what is ok to say, and what I should not say. You might have learned asking for what you need is selfish, while I may have lthought-bubblesearned asking for what I need is assertive. So when we come together we’re both trying to talk to each other out of a jumble of messages each of us has learned. For example if I’ve had grown up in a horribly abusive environment, I may assume that it’s not safe to ask others for anything so I may come on very strong when you offer support and say something like, “I don’t need you, you can’t help me!”

If you respond defensively, and say, “hey look, I was just trying to be supportive,” we may miss what is really being conveyed and we may  disconnect.  If on the other hand, you listen with an ear for the untold story you may say, “It sounds like that really made you angry, and I have to say that pushes some buttons for me. I’m wondering if you’re feeling judged by my offer”.  Perhaps the response is something like “yes, I’ve been judged all my life” or even “no, it’s just that the last time somebody offered their support, I ended up locked up in the hospital”. In both of these responses, we are starting to get a glimpse of the “larger story.”

Another example might be:  Tyson is angry with Bill because he hasn’t been helping cooking with the lunch meal.

He could say “seems like you do anything you can to get out of helping with the cooking”. The response may be pretty defensive, and angry.
Another approach could be “Bill every time in the last week I’ve asked you to help with cooking, you’ve found something else to do. I have to tell you that I’ve been feeling a bit frustrated but it makes me wonder if you just don’t like cooking.”

This opens the conversation for another story. Perhaps Bill has been in group homes, or living with his parents for many years, and has been told that the kitchen is a dangerous place…
Listening for the untold story can open up a conversation- particularly if you can resist the urge to grill the other person with a lot of questions, and can relate it to some of your own experiences. This makes room for mutuality which will be more of the topic in the next article.

Shery Mead Bio:

Shery Mead has been developing and teaching intentional peer support since 1995. Intentional Peer Support is a way of thinking about and inviting transformative relationships between people. In this process we learn to use relationships to see ourselves from new angles, develop greater awareness of personal and relational patterns, and support and challenge each other into trying out new ways of seeing and knowing. We do this by following 3 principles and 4 tasks. The principles include the idea of learning together rather than the intention of helping each other, a focus on relationship as opposed to a focus on the individual, and paying attention to hope based interactions rather than reacting out of fear. The tasks include connection, worldview, mutuality and moving towards.

Shery has done extensive speaking and training, nationally and internationally, on the topics of alternative approaches to crisis, trauma informed peer services, systems change, and the development and implementation of peer operated services. Her publications include academic articles, training manuals and a book co-authored with Mary Ellen Copeland, Wellness Recovery Action Planning and Peer Support.
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