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Meaningful Conversations

Issue 9
Take Them to the Next Level Through Active Listening

by Sarah Kelly

One of the most beautiful pieces of recovery is the sharing of stories—the connection that happens between two people or a group of people. There is a bond and mutual respect that occurs based on witnessing another person share their most painful times and how they healed.

Meaningful conversations take effort. The first step toward a deeper connection and conversation is to listen. We live in a world that doesn’t always listen, and this permeates into our lives in recovery. We are inundated with technology daily.

Our brains have adapted to multi-tasking, and our attention span has shortened. If we are distracted by the phone in our hands or trying to think of a response before the person has even finished speaking, then we are guilty of not listening or being present.

Active listening is a skill used often by coaches and counselors to build relationships, but you don’t need to be a professional to use this skill.

Using active listening in your own recovery journey will deepen your relationships, build trust, allow you to feel more empathy, help you practice mindfulness, and learn to be more present.

When you actively listen, you also create a safe place for vulnerability to exist. In turn, the trust that develops allows your own voice to be heard in a more expansive way.

Here are some tips for developing your practice of active listening and meaningful conversation:

  • Put down distractions: Turn off your phone notifications and set it aside. If you’re somewhere that is noisy or offers distractions, face yourself towards the person in a way that won’t tempt you to look around.
  • Body language: There’s a reason the saying “poker face” exists, our bodies and facial expressions tell a story! It’s important to notice your own body language. Sit or stand in a way that is open, make eye contact, nod in affirmation.
  • Listen to listen, not to respond: How often are you already thinking of what you want to say next before the person has even finished their thought? We all do this because we’ve learned that responding is what you’re supposed to do in a conversation, but how do we respond if we haven’t really heard? As your mind begins to drift, bring it back to the words that the person in front of you is saying. As with meditation, you can’t always help it if your brain drifts, however you can acknowledge your thought and come back to the present.
  • Affirmation: Simple ways to affirm what you heard include a simple nodding of the head or making an affirmative noise such as “mhmm.” Another way is by reflecting back to the person by restating what you heard them say, then giving the time for them to confirm if this was accurate.
  • Ask permission to respond or offer advice: Sometimes it’s just about getting something off their chest; the person isn’t looking for advice or for someone to fix the situation. Having someone listen to them sharing their truth could be the only thing that person needs. Ask for permission before responding with your own personal story or offering advice.
  • Ask open ended questions: Instead of giving advice, ask questions. Support their process by helping them work through their own answers rather than immediately offering advice. Curiosity also shows interest that you want to learn more about the person or the situation.
  • It’s okay to want to be heard too: Active listening isn’t about not having a voice, it’s about allowing someone the space to use their voice before you jump in.. In any meaningful conversation, there is the opportunity for everyone to share their own stories, insight or struggles. Wait for the time in the conversation when it is appropriate to offer your thoughts or before you switch gears to talk about something going on in your life.

Just like any new skill, active listening and meaningful conversation takes practice. It’s okay to not do this perfectly right away or all of the time. You can continue to develop the skill and see how it benefits you and your relationships.

Try it out!

PRCC’s mission is to provide support, education, resources, and advocacy for people recovering from and affected by addiction, and to spread the message of hope throughout the state of Maine and beyond. PRCC’s vision is that every person affected by addiction in Maine will have direct access to a local recovery community center that provides support, education, and individual resources to enhance their ability to heal, strengthen and grow in their recovery pathway, throughout all stages of their journey. PRCC provides a place for the recovery community to grow and thrive at 102 Bishop Street in Portland. The center offers space for meetings and activities devoted to recovery from substance use disorder. PRCC is operated by staff and volunteers who are passionate about recovery, and every activity is created by and for people in recovery. PRCC offers peer support to individuals who use a variety of recovery pathways, and we honor each person’s unique recovery journey. We know from experience that successful recovery from substance use disorder requires support from others. Our center welcomes all who are taking steps to recover. PRCC works statewide to support the development of new recovery community centers so that every community in Maine has access to its own local center. By providing training, resources, and technical support to new and developing centers, PRCC’s Recovery Hub sustains a network of mutual support among the centers that develops leadership and empowers communities.

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