COUNSELLING as a professional practice involves skills that can and ought to be employed by all of us — specifically, listening skills. But the following listening skills are special in that they combine a heart of compassion with the intentional skill of interactional focus. Anyone who employs these skills with heart will be blessed to be a blessing.
And if being blessed to be a blessing isn’t enough motivation for us, then we’ll be motivated simply to feel more confident because we are more in control of our communication.
There are three dimensions to a one-to-one interaction: them, us, and the space between the two of us.
Being ‘with’ (them) is primary. Imagining being out of ourselves and in the other person before us, we observe keenly their physical appearance, mannerism, body language, intonation, word; every cue of sense. They, to us, are a work of art as we seek to sense exactly what they are experiencing and communicating — in their being.
We want to give them permission to slow down, and even to stop. Indeed, we’re stopped within ourselves if we are truly being ‘with’ them.
We are so alive in our senses toward them that our memories are active and we are praying to record them. As we take in all the information they’re giving us we take hold of grab-words and grab-concepts they’re telling us in order to enquire deeply of them if the opportunity presents. Being ‘with’ them is very much about unknowing what we might assume is knowable about them in order that we might become innately curious; to never assume and always confirm.
Prayer is how we are able to be within (ourselves); that, and to notice every cue within ourselves that requires notice. This includes being hyperaware of stimuli that raises our ire, on the one hand, and stimuli that raises our desires on the other. The person deserves every portion of our impartial selves that we are able to give them. In being ‘within’ we are able to hold ourselves to quiet account and govern ourselves through self-control. And we can only do that if we are constantly praying, “Lord, reveal to me my bias so I might, by your grace, remove it.” This is why the best counsellors already have the most honest of relationships with themselves. The best in emotional maturity, gloriously, is available to anyone, not just counsellors.
Truth is inordinately precious as we keep the space between us and them real — surreally real. We are there for them without a moment’s hesitation. Being real is keeping it real, no matter what. Being real is about screening out every distraction in the environment. Being real in this way is external to us as it is external to them. It is the space between us and all around us. It is making the commitment to go beyond what we might ordinarily compromise on.
A subtle differentiation in these three in terms of eye contact: being with involves us needing to see their eyes; to give close attention to maintaining constant eye contact. Being within involves us noticing when our eye contact is diminishing to maintain it. Being real is having the courage to resume such intensity of eye contact and consciously maintaining it.
There are three ways in one to be truly present with those we love and care for, to the extent of every interaction. It’s about being fully ‘with’ them, whilst being fully ‘within’ ourselves, whilst being surreally real.
In each dimension of conscious contact there is focus, intention, and deliberation. These three ways are done at the same time, requiring quite literally enormous focus. The flow of our conscious contact will waver, but the key is to continue to move into being in these three ways.
Conscious contact in interaction is helped by being with the other person, whilst being within ourselves, whilst also being real.
The greatest gift we can give another person is to be present with them.
© 2015 Steve Wickham.