Try listening with your gut!

How well you listen to others depends on how well you listen to your gut. Your gut sends you regular physical signals that represent your emotional state. When you are listening to someone with understanding, empathy, and confidence, you will find that your gut is calm, settled, and relaxed. On the contrary, when you feel defensive, afraid, anxious, or worried, your gut may feel tight, constricted, or like it’s churning inside. Rather than focusing on trying to understand and listen, you may be preparing to defend your position or correct the other person. Choosing to engage in these unproductive forms of communication might increase the discomfort in your gut.

If you want to be a better communicator, learn to listen to your gut. Pay attention to the connection between your body’s signals and your particular situation. The key to listening is staying connected to your internal body reactions, such as your throat tightening, your stomach turning, or your body becoming warmer. These reactions inform us that we are feeling angry, afraid, or hurt. They alert us to the fact that we need to manage our emotions to keep the dialogue going. If we don’t respond to them, these emotions can interfere with our ability to stay open-minded and in listening mode.

When you notice discomfort, take a breath, feel your feet on the ground, and focus on being mindful. The ability to self-regulate – to be in charge of your emotions, rather than letting your emotions control you – is the hallmark of a good listener. Listening without feeling that we have to fix or change the situation is an art that requires self-awareness, mindfulness, and self-discipline.


How good a listener are you?

Below is a list of behaviours we engage in when we’re unable to regulate our own internal anxieties and fears, along with some examples. With which areas might you struggle when listening to others?


    • I think you should. Why didn’t you? Did you try? Look at it this way.


    • That’s nothing. Wait until you hear what happened to me.


    • This could be a blessing in disguise. You need to make the best of this. What lesson do you need to learn from this?


    • It wasn’t your fault. You did the best you could. They are the ones who are at fault.


    • That reminds me of a time when—. Did I ever tell you about—? Do you know what happened to Larry?


    • Cheer up. Don’t feel so bad. Think of others who are much worse off than you are. Move on. It’s over now. Get on with it.


    • Hey, it could be worse. There’s no reason to feel this way.


    • You poor thing! I know exactly how you feel. I went through the same experience.


    • When did this start happening? What exactly happened? Then what did he say?


    • I would have called but I was tied up. I can’t help it. Yes, but—.


    • That’s not exactly how it happened. Aren’t you forgetting an important detail? What about what you did?


    • I think it’s time you pulled yourself together. You need to let this go. It’s just going to hurt you.


    • Let me tell you what you have to do here. What needs to happen is this.


    • Oh, come on, that’s impossible. How do you know that, anyway? Just forget about it.


    • You shouldn’t feel that way. What’s the problem this time?


    • Don’t be such a cry baby.


    • I don’t want to hear about this again.



Learning to be comfortable with your own emotions and staying in the present moment (not in the past or future) are two of the best ways you can begin to become a truly effective listener and communicator.

After all, how can we ask others to listen and hear us if we don’t do the same for them? If we wish others to listen to us, then the best thing we can do is first learn to listen and to understand ourselves.

Claire Maisonneuve, Registered Clinical Counsellor, Director of the Alpine Anxiety and Stress Relief Clinic
First published in the Inside Tract® newsletter issue 176 – 2010