As members of The Constellation we aim at making SALT a part of our behaviour. The ‘L’ in SALT stands for listening. But what do we listen for?  There are 3 things that we could listen for:

Listen for feelings:

As a volunteer on a suicide helpline, I am trained in ‘active listening’ where we listen to the feelings of the person who is on the call. The feeling of being acknowledged, listened to and understood is a precious gift that we ‘offer’ to our callers on the helpline. Though active listening helps is addressing suicidal intent, isn’t being acknowledged, listened to and understood a basic need for each one of us and the people who we partner with? An example of listening for feeling statement could be as follows

“I can sense that you are extremely angry at the health centre staff for not warning you regarding the side effects of the vaccination and you feel betrayed”

Listen for needs:

Those who are trained in ‘Non Violent Communication’ listen to the underlying needs of people. A summary list of human needs are found in the following link.

As you reflect with the person on their unmet needs and resultant feelings the person feels understood. This can be a foundation for further conversations regarding means to fulfil those needs. Taking the above example forward, listening to needs can be stated as follows:

“I can sense that you are extremely angry at the health centre staff for not warning you regarding the side effects of the vaccination and you feel betrayed. You really wanted to be treated like an equal human being and respected for the wisdom that you have as a mother of this child”

Listen for human capacities:

Human beings are born with innate capacities including care, community, change, hope and leadership. Irrespective of where you find them ( communities, institutions, policy makers, researchers, academics) listening and acknowledging the human capacities of people makes them truly valued and appreciated thus provoking them for further thoughts and actions. Going back to the previous example:

“I can sense that you are extremely angry at the hospital staff for not warning you regarding the side effects of vaccinations and you feel betrayed. You really wanted to be treated like an equal human being and respected for the wisdom and the best intent that you have as a mother of this beautiful child. Due to your sense of care for other mothers you feel that you along with other mothers in the village should be forewarned and educated regarding all vaccinations. How could we support you in rebuilding your trust with the health service programs?”

Next time when you listen, try listening to feelings, underlying needs and human strengths and share your learning with us.

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Comment by Bobby Zachariah on July 21, 2016 at 9:55am


The practice of being aware of why you are in the conversation (to SALT, to facilitate response) who the conversation is about (the person / family / group we are listening to) helps me to follow the conversation even if it does not resonate with myself.

I sometimes find that there is a danger when we resonate with the person, due to the assumptions both the listener and the speaker/s make.

Active Listening can be consuming, hence there is a need for debriefing after (AER) the session, so that we can share with our team mates and find our resonance back.

Thank you for contribution.

Comment by Jean-Louis Lamboray on July 20, 2016 at 10:56pm

Hi Bobby

What I meant to convey is that there is a form of listening where I observe my own feelings in response to what the other person says. So when I practice deep listening I don't limit my listening to the other person, but listen to myself as well. Maybe even I listen to the interaction, the resonance  or lack thereof between us. Does that make sense?


Comment by Bobby Zachariah on July 18, 2016 at 10:25pm

Hi Laura,

During our training in active listening, we were presented with scenarios and asked to choose the feelings and needs of the person, from a list of feelings and needs list displayed in front of us.

All of us felt "I know exactly how this person is feeling" and we chose a feeling and a need, to describe how the person was feeling.  However, the surprise happened when we shared in plenary.  Though the scenario was the same, we had all interpreted it differently and chosen different feelings and needs for the same story.  When they explained, we could see why they interpreted it so.

Needless to say, we learned our lesson - we do our best to understand the other person, but always check with the person to confirm.  The person may say "you got me right" or he/she may help correct our perception. In either case, the client is happy that we are making an effort to understand him/her, which is the point of the listening exercise.

In my personal experience in the suicide helpline and during SALT visits, I am not surprised that I hardly get it right.  I may get close, but not to the point that I can assume.

I am interested to hear whether this would be the case in your context where listening is applied.


Comment by Laura Simms on July 17, 2016 at 6:49pm

I so appreciate what you wrote.  I was wondering if you always say "I sense that you feel such a way.."  Do you ever say "it feels to me as if you are  angry or sad..." Is there a difference in how people respond to your checking with them on your assessment or is there a certain strength in directly saying what you percieve as a certainty??   thank you for responding in advance,  Laura

Comment by Bobby Zachariah on July 13, 2016 at 1:49pm

Why would 'resonance within myself' be important during SALT visits?  How can we listen, even if it does not resonate within myself?

Comment by Jean-Louis Lamboray on July 5, 2016 at 9:45pm

Is there yet another dimension to listening, which is listening to resonance withing myself?

Comment by Birgitta Schomaker on July 4, 2016 at 6:15pm

What a great thread is this.

Bobby, wonderful place you work at, to be able to learn so much about listening to the other person as well as about listening to ourselves....  Precious! Thank you for sharing.

Comment by Bobby Zachariah on July 4, 2016 at 6:25am

Dear Friends,

Thanks for your comments - the 'how' aspects that you clarified in addition to the 'what' of listening.

At our suicide helpline, we teach our volunteers 'mindfulness based active listening'.  The mindfulness aspect brings in the awareness of ourselves, our surroundings and the other.  Noticing ourselves, our feelings, our thoughts helps us to become aware of our responses to the person who we listen to. This helps us to remind ourselves that the conversation is about the person in front of us (and not about us).  The internal conversations that we have with ourselves, as we listen, is thus important.  This also helps us to consciously practice SALT.

An internal conversation could be as follows: "Even though I feel it was stupid from her side to not vaccinate all her children just because of a mild fever that followed after the first dose of vaccination, I choose to respect her feelings, continue listening and follow her thought patterns.  Hopefully, we will build a respectful bonding relationship with each other eventually"

Comment by Birgitta Schomaker on July 4, 2016 at 12:24am

Great find, Rituu!

It was during a coaching-style leadership class I ran in Shanghai a few years ago that one of the participants drew the chinese character for listening on the flipchart. A precious moment of sharing wisdom between cultures. 

In addition to what Bobby wrote, for me empathic listening means to listen also to what is NOT being said. Listening into the silence. What do the eyes tell? What is the language of the body? What gestures do you notice?

Comment by Rituu B. Nanda on July 3, 2016 at 11:19pm

First Geoff spoke about the role of eyes in listening and now Birgitta, you bring in the heart in this exchange. I searched and found  information on 'Ting' the chinese character - to listen.

Chinese character for “listen” – embedded meanings

Chinese character for listen


It consists of several components:

Ear = What you use to listen   (hear)

King = Pay attention as if the other person were king (obey)

Ten and Eye = Be observant as if you had ten eyes (heed)

One = Listen with individual attention (attend to)

Heart = Listen also with your heart (in addition to ear and eye) (hearken)



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