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Authentic communication: The ACT of listening

Authentic communication: The ACT of listening
author apree health

We’ve all heard about the value of listening, whether from our parents, a teacher, a partner, or even a quote on social media. This post is an opportunity to put what you’ve heard into ACTion. (No, that’s not a typo.)

ACT, or acceptance and commitment therapy, is a form of mindful psychotherapy that, when used correctly, allows you to listen to yourself and others. The ACT approach involves accepting, directing, and taking action. It’s often used by professional therapists and counselors, but with understanding, guidance, and fine-tuning, you can use it to enhance your listening skills.


Understanding how to ACT

The first step of ACT is acceptance. You might have heard the saying, “Accept what you cannot change.” When thinking about emotions or feelings, people often get lost in sensation, which causes everything around them to spin out of control. Have you ever considered accepting your emotions mindfully? Whether you are angry, happy, sad, or frustrated, do not try to define that feeling or emotion. It’s a part of who you are. Accept it as it is.

After acceptance, choose the direction you want to go. Find a way to positively and productively move forward, instead of backtracking. 

Moving forward brings us into the final phase, which is action. Think about moving forward progressively, not backward regressively. You have the ability and power to take charge — your self-empowerment drives you with resilience, regardless of what comes your way. 

What is authentic communication?

Coaching is a prime example of authentic communication, which is a summary of multiple communication styles. Authentic communication includes deep listening, curious inquiry, perceptive reflections, and silence.

Deep listening

Deep listening is simply finding the need behind the need. The question is, how do you ACT when deep listening? When you start to ask deeper questions, or understand the need behind those questions, it leads you down the path of acceptance. But, what exactly are you accepting? Consider asking:

  • What is your future? 
  • What are the relationships like in your life? 
  • Are they meaningful? 
  • What about the choices you made or will make? 
  • What are your habits or routines?

This investigation supports the clarity or acceptance of how things are now, and it allows for decisions on what’s next (if anything at all) and which actions should follow. Life comes at us all, yet resilience is what triumphs.

Curious inquiry

The saying “curiosity killed the cat” warns that looking too much may lead to a risk you’re not prepared to take. Yet, a quote by Dr. Debasish Mridha, physician and author, says, “Never lose your curious mind.” There’s quite a contradiction between these two ideas, right?

Think of it this way — through curious inquiry you learn to do things, such as look deeper into yourself or others. It opens your heart and mind to other possibilities. When you open yourself in this manner, it’s not because you have a goal or certain expectations. You begin to develop an insight into what could be another form of acceptance. Accepting change and  possibilities, and taking yourself down a new path or direction, allows you to move forward.

Perceptive reflections

What is perceptive reflection, and how is it a form of listening? Consider small children, such as babies and toddlers. They often repeat the actions and words of those closest to them. Oftentimes when we see this occur, it makes us question ourselves or be more mindful of our behavior.

Another form of perceptive reflection occurs when you’re by yourself. Try speaking your thoughts aloud, instead of in your head. Actually hearing the words can lead you to better understand what’s happening or coming next. 

The same thing can occur when you’re talking with others. Having someone understand, repeat, and/or reflect on what you’re saying often leads to a new perspective. It’s not so different from that behavior change mentioned earlier, with the small child who mirrors the words or behaviors of those closest to them. 

How are you ACTing with this type of listening? Whether exploring yourself or talking to others, you bring a new form of self-awareness. This is how you accept emotions you might have forgotten how to deal with. This includes yourself and others you speak to. With those new feelings, you now have a direction on how to manage those shared and expressed emotions or feelings. The action comes from deciding to move forward with those emotions, not only now, but also later.

Silence

We’ve come to the final piece, known as silence. How can you communicate through the ACT of silence? When others talk, we often think we must talk back, but what if instead we choose to WAIT? If you’re unfamiliar with this acronym, it means to ask yourself, “Why Am I Talking?” when others are speaking. 

Silence is golden. By allowing others to speak, you’re accepting what they have to say without judgment. You’re letting them cover the topics they feel are important to them, and you’re allowing them to decide which direction they want to go with the information and moment at hand. 

It works the same way when you’re speaking. When you’re allowed to talk by a person or group, you’ll often feel comfortable communicating with them going forward (acceptance). Someone is willing to simply listen to you, so you know who to turn to if needed (direction), and you have the choice to share what you feel comfortable with and think about the “what if” (action).

Now you understand how authentic communication supports you in the ACT of listening. Of course, it’s not something everyone can excel at overnight — as with any skill, you must practice with yourself and practice with others. Remember that an authentic communicator is someone who communicates effectively.

apree health is hiring! Check out our open positions to see if one is right for you.

References:
Lawson K. (2013). The four pillars of health coaching: preserving the heart of a movement. Global advances in health and medicine, 2(3), 6–8. https://doi.org/10.7453/gahmj.2013.038 

Contributors, W. M. D. E. (2021, April 9). Act therapy: What it is and how it can benefit your mental health. WebMD. Retrieved May 24, 2022, from https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/what-is-acceptance-and-commitment-therapy   

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