Practicing good active listening changes everything. People feel like they've been heard, conversations don't get derailed. Active listening involves the practice of fully and attentively listening to your partner's words, without interrupting o
r offering solutions, to genuinely comprehend their thoughts, feelings, and perspective. It means not thinking about what you are going to say next while they are talking. It sounds so easy, but in practice it's hard to do.
BioGraffs helps with that!
First let me run down the steps to good active listening, briefly. Ideally, both partners in a conversation follow these guidelines:
Show your engagement - Body language is important. Make eye contact. Lean in. Pay attention to your expressions that they aren't communicating disapproval or disagreement
Focus on their story - Be aware of the very human propensity to be composing your response or rebuttal while they are talking, and don't do that. Be aware of your tendency to want to give advice or solve problems, and don't do that.
Reflecting - As you are listening to the other person, notice moments when they pause after a thought and try to reflect back what they just said. Paraphrase it. Say things like "it sounds like....," or "if I understand you, you....," or "what I'm hearing is..."
Ask questions - Encourage the other person to elaborate on their thoughts and feelings. Don't make up your own stories about what they are saying -- ask what they mean.
Take turns - When the other person has said everything th
ey want about what they are talking about, share your reactions to what they have said. Share how it made you feel, express empathy and anything about how you relate. Express compassion. Then switch roles. Both of you do the same for the other.
Some of these things take practice and control. It's really something you have to practice regularly to be good at. The rewards are tremendous - better understanding and connection. So how can BioGraffs help? First, it's an activity with a physical presence, so bringing out the Toolkit sets the intention for telling and listening and makes a space for it to happen. It reminds both partners that this is what we are doing now: telling and listening and doing it actively.
Show your engagement - BioGraffs creates a center of attention that holds both people engaged. One has to lean in, in order to see it. It allows for a place to look and point to. When direct eye-contact might be too intense, it gives another place to look that isn't away.
Focus on their story - The structure of one person explaining their BioGraffs keeps the focus on this one story that they have thought deeply about and organized to be told. The other person is engaged in puzzling out meanings in the visual as the storyteller is talking. The structure of the BioGraffs keeps story in the main, and is a touchstone to come back to if the conversation takes a turn or goes off on a tangent. It gives both people an awareness of a story that needs to be completed.
Reflecting - Reflecting feels awkward at first. People want to add to conversation, not just "parrot," which is how it feels to some people. But i
t's so powerful when you do it - the other person truly feels like they've been heard and understood, and so they are in much better place to then, later, think of other perspectives or entertain solutions, because they aren't so busy trying to defend their ground. The structure of explaining one's BioGraff helps with this because the visual is a story that clearly needs to be told to the end. There's no room in it for advice, rebuttal, or tangents as long as the integrity of the storytelling format is respected. So in some ways, the only thing to do is repeat or rephrase what is being said and what you are understanding in what the other person is telling you.
Ask questions - A BioGraff creates natural and obvious questions. "Why did you chose that color?" or "What does this shape mean?" "Why did you lay out the cubes this way?" "Does this form have meaning to you?" After telling the story of their BioGraff, the storyteller might have missed explaining some things. You can ask them to say more about what the cubes mean.
Take turns - You both made a BioGraff. You take turns telling about what your BioGraff means.
After you've both told your stories and felt heard, there's another powerful thing about what happens next. And that's a subject for the next post!