Compassionate Listening

Compassionate listening is one of the most profound gifts that we can give to someone.

Compassionate listening means looking at someone as they talk to you; concentrating on their words; listening to the things that they are saying and noticing the undercurrent of things unsaid that flows underneath.  Compassionate listening is paying attention to someone absolutely and thereby placing infinite value on what they have to say; it is letting them know that what they have to say is important and that they deserve to be heard. 

Compassionate listening is when you stay silent in order to allow another person's words to emerge; it is resisting the urge to butt in, or to speak, or to comment, or to relate what they have to say to something in your own life... all of these things might come up later in the conversation, but while your friend is speaking, all you are doing is listening wholeheartedly to them.

Compassionate listening is staying open-minded and freeing yourself from the instinct to judge; compassionate listening is giving the gift of unconditional attention and a benevolent, kind open ear.

Compassionate listening does not mean that you have to listen to someone speaking abusively about another, or about themselves, or that you have to sit for hours while someone bemoans their lot in life.  With strength and kindness you are free to set your own boundaries; you are allowed to decide when you need to leave; you can trust yourself to know what attitudes you find acceptable.

The flipside of giving compassionate listening, is receiving it. Your voice is important too and your stories are as deserving of being heard as everyone else's; if someone is prepared to bestow upon you their compassionate attention, then don't be afraid to speak; let them hear your questions, your vulnerabilities and the stories of your life. Feel yourself worthy of being heard.

Compassionate listening is very rare indeed.  Catch yourself the next time you are out with a friend and your phone beeps and you go to read a message while they are talking.  Know when your attention is wandering, or if you are someone who likes to interrupt with your own stories or advice.  We are human, after all, and there is so much around us to distract us from one another.  You can only try your best to give the gift of compassionate listening whenever life presents you with the opportunity.  By being mindful of what others have to say, you can let them know that they are worthy and that you have time for them, you can help to lighten their load.


  1. ‘The most precious thing that you can give another human being is total, undivided, benevolent attention. To be recognized as a worthwhile human being and loved by a stranger, that is a life saving experience.’ Chad Varah, founder of the Samaritans. V.


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