Active Listening: Building Trust Through Active Listening

by Paulette Rao Share via -



Trust is fragile. Whether it is a new client trusting the efficacy of the coaching sessions they just signed on for or our significant other trusting us to celebrate their accomplishment in a way that communicates how much we support them, trust takes time to build and can be shattered in a second.

One key element in earning trust is that the other person knows we see them for who they are and what they want. In the case of a coaching engagement, the client must believe that we “get” them, we care and we are capable of helping them grow. When it comes to celebrating another’s accomplishment, the other person needs to know we deeply honor what they have done or who they are becoming. These relationships are different from each other; but yet in each of them in order to gain the trust of the other, we must have listened to them well. Who are they at their essence? 

This level of listening is about paying attention in a certain way, with a certain mindset and a wholehearted commitment to the other. It is where you set aside your knowledge, attitudes and beliefs – as well as any attachment to a specific outcome – to allow space for new possibilities to surface. It is our responsibility as coaches and leaders to be fully present, to take ourselves out of the equation.

Such listening creates a state of grace for our clients. A place with no judgment. Here we are allowed to experience another’s vulnerabilities. Figuratively, we must remove our shoes before stepping into their sacred temple. We do this by honoring each word, sensation, and even silence fully. This sacred place where one is not judged is the birthplace of greatness – latent potential realized. This is a space that allows for movement and growth. Here trust is built.

However, we must continue to guard against distrust because it is so easily created. The primitive part of our brain is constantly on the lookout for threats. Responding more quickly than other parts of the brain and in as little as .07 seconds, the amygdala responds to perceived threats by flooding the Pre-Frontal Cortex (PFC), the logical part of our brain where trust lives, with cortisol. Called an amygdala hyjacking, the cortisol released from the amygdala pretty much shuts down the PFC’s capacity to think clearly forcing us to focus on the threat instead of constructively building trust. In this moment, we are in the position to fight, flee, freeze or appease. We are in danger of allowing our fear to take control and govern the outcome of the relationship. Thus our primitive brain does not work toward building trust, but against it. Consequently, we cannot build trust accidentally. It must be built on purpose.

There are many ways to quiet the amygdala’s response to threats and clear the PFC of the debilitating cortisol. One of the most effective is to provide a client a safe place to share vulnerabilities and fears with no fear of judgment.

Judgment can take many forms. Simple things like a slight frown or shake of the head can signal to the speaker that we have judged them. Often when we sense an inner urge to roll our eyes, those around us can pick up the vibe. We want to leave all judgment behind, so we can simply exist with the person to whom we are listening.

As we enter into the other person’s experience fully, we give them the opportunity to really untangle what they are thinking and who they truly are. When we leave such conversations, we both walk away with expanded compassion and worldviews. Our worlds have enlarged. A healing of sorts has occurred which can only be facilitated by knowing and being known.

Active listening with active constructive responding is a beautiful experience which helps us experience others deeply. Whether interacting with clients, loved ones or friends, it helps us strengthen trust in our relationships and serve others well. What steps can you take in your life to provide those around you with a healing silence?

“When we are listened to, it creates us, makes us unfold and expand. It is a mysterious and magnetic force that pulls people into that quiet attentive presence, which allows us to unfold and know ourselves.” Wendy Strgar





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