A Healing Impulse: 7 — About Open Hearted Listening

When A Healing Impulse was published in the Fall 1999 issue Communities Magazine, it was accompanied by the following article, in which Daniel and Cecile outline the three basic steps of the Open Hearted Listening process.

About Open Hearted Listening

by Daniel Little and Cecile Green

Open Hearted Listening is a simple, practical method for developing empathy. It offers an opportunity for two or more people to navigate through difficult issues to a place of mutual compassion and connection, once they have learned the technique and have agreed to use it in their relationships.

The process has three steps. First, someone who is in emotional distress (called the “speaker”) asks the person who may seem to be causing their distress (the “listener”) if they are willing to listen with an open heart. This sets the stage for the practice of Open Hearted Listening, by invoking the previously made agreement.

In the second step, the speaker tells his or her story, while the listener receives it and then reflects or “mirrors” the content of the story back to the speaker. All the details (who, what, where, and especially how it felt) are fully shared and accurately mirrored.

Then begins step three. Here the listener sets aside defensiveness and attempts to “walk in the moccasins” of the speaker. The goal is to develop and express an understanding of how the speaker could feel the way he or she does. Speaker and listener work together as allies, sharing new information and making suggestions about how the validation process can work better, until an empathetic link is established and the speaker feels validated.

The “mirroring” aspect of this process resembles the practice of active listening. Yet the real magic and mystery come from the final step, successful validation, as both people share the emotional reality of the one in distress. It is not about making one person right and the other wrong. It is about the emotional healing that comes from genuine empathy.

We have been interested for several years in the potential application of Open Hearted Listening to the network of relationships in communities. We believe it is well suited to preventing and resolving conflict in any relationships which are based upon commitment and a strong desire to grow.

Daniel Little and Cecile Green wish to gratefully acknowledge Don and Martha Rosenthal, the creators of Open Hearted Listening, for their training and support.