Listening and hypnosis

Man on sofa listening to a conversation with a hypnotist
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Do you hear what I hear? Or, do you tune out and not fully focus on what your hypnotherapy client or hypnosis volunteer is saying? Paying attention to what is being said is a skill that can be developed, and that will help you be a more effective hypnotist. If you struggle to listen carefully you will miss valuable information. This blog introduces the key differences between passive and interpretive listening as well as offering a range of strategies to enhance your own active listening process. It concludes with several listening enhancement activities to develop your listening abilities and core skills.


An awareness of listener style

At times during your hypnosis process, you may wish to offer a ‘passive listening’ reception of factual information, whilst at other times, you may be engaged in discussing the information that’s provided.


Passive reception:

Hear, listen and concentrate.
Understand the meaning and semantics.
Notice the non-verbal communication.


Interpretive reception:

Have ideas that evolve as you listen.
Ask questions based on your ideas.
Interpret any non-verbal communication.


Listening strategies

Avoid assumptions

“I will get back to you in a bit”. If you said this phrase to 10 people, it would likely mean something different to each person. Some might think that ‘a bit’ would be a few minutes, others might think it would be longer (hours, days or even longer still). A few might even feel it is a brush off. Be aware of how you might be interpreting what you are hearing in your hypnosis sessions and fact check any assumptions you might be making with the person you’re listening to.


Avoid judgement

It can be a challenge for some to listen with an open mind. It is often easy to jump to conclusions, or even to think you know what someone is going to say next or what happened next. However, if you do so, then that perception will influence everything else that you think moving forwards. You are engaging in ‘confirmation bias’ and only really picking out new information that will confirm your theory or belief. In addition, if you end up thinking something negative based on your own judgements, it is likely to be reflected in your body language and will be picked up by the speaker. This may lead to them filtering the rest of the information to avoid reinforcing that perceived criticism. This is even more likely if you actually make a judgemental comment; it is a really quick way to compromise your effectiveness as a listener.


Be attentive

Be present in the conversation, and give the person who is talking your full attention. Actively listen to what they are saying, rather than planning what to say next as soon as you can spot an opportunity to jump in. If you find what they are saying to be boring, and if you need to listen, make even more effort. Make it an active challenge to notice the fine details of what is being said.

hands holding an active listening sign, reading speak less, listen more.


Face the speaker and maintain eye contact

If you are focused on what is going on around you, then you are missing out on observing key information (body language, gestures and facial expressions) to support or contradict what you are hearing. Listening isn’t all about hearing, a lot of meaning and deeper insight can be gained by watching a speaker as you listen.


Keep an open mind

Listen to the words spoken and create a map or model of what the person is talking about. Ideally you will notice the big picture (main point) and the smaller pictures (side or supporting issues). This will help you to further clarify the information that you are receiving.


Listen for what remains unsaid

Do the words that have been said and the tonality and body language match? If someone is sounding flat yet says they are excited about something, that is a clue to explore. In the same way, if their expression is happy, yet they are talking about something sad, you may want to seek additional information and get clarification.


Pause potential solutions to gain more information

Rather than interrupting or saying “do you mean…?”, and then telling them what you think they will say, wait. Use pauses to give space for the speaker to think and to add in further information without being distracted by your question. In addition, remember that some people do speak slowly or need more time to formulate what they are saying. Just as saying a word that someone is stuttering/stammering over can be frustrating for them, it can really lose rapport and irritate a speaker if you attempt to finish their sentences. Not only does it disrupt their train of thought, it can result in the speaker feeling unheard or that the listener is impatient. Avoid offering solutions too quickly, especially if they haven’t been asked for and particularly avoid the phrase, “What you should do is…” By directly telling someone what you think they ‘should’ do, you may find the person will respond with defensiveness, or simply will feel judged.


Respond to what is said

Show the person you are talking with that you are listening by using non-verbal (expressions) and sub-verbal (e.g. “uh huh”, “hmmm”, “oh!”) indications. This will inspire them to talk more, as they will feel listened to.


Timely asking of questions

If you are unsure of what someone is saying or meaning, wait for a gap or pause to ask about it. Otherwise you might interrupt their thought processes and they might lose their thread. Also, they may be about to provide further clarification but don’t get the opportunity to because you have already interrupted them.


Use information breaks

Give clients and volunteers information breaks. It can be quite mentally intensive to provide a lot of information. As short a time as two-minutes makes a significant difference in helping both the speaker and listener refocus. Changing the subject or introducing an activity can be a great way to do this during a hypnosis session.


Use relaxed eye contact

If you are paying close attention to someone it can be easy to start staring at them. Instead, remember to look elsewhere from time to time, as you would in any normal conversation. This will make the speaker more comfortable, and more likely to share.

A staring eye, looking into your soul.


Listening development activities

Listening activity: location detail

Ask a friend or colleague to look at an image of a scene of their choosing (e.g. a room, a market, an office) for a couple of minutes, taking in as much information about the scene as they can. Then ask them to describe it to you in one minute. Note the key points of the scene. Then compare what you noticed to the detail in the picture.


Listening activity: following instructions

Sit with your back to a friend or colleague. Using some play dough ask them to create a shape that represents an idea or concept. When they are finished, ask them to give you instructions to tell you how to replicate what they are holding without telling you what the idea or concept is. Notice if, by the end, you can work out what they intended the shape to represent.

Another great activity in this category, to boost listening skills, is to get together with some friends or colleagues (e.g. a peer support group or hypnosis meetup). Give everyone a sheet of paper and nominate someone as the speaker. Then everyone else is to close their eyes and listen. The speaker gives a series of instructions (at least 10) about what to do with the paper, for example:


Fold it in half
Fold it again
Fold the top right corner over the bottom left corner
Turn it 90 degrees to the right
Fold it again
Rip a half-circle in the middle of the left side
Turn it 90 degrees to the left
Fold the lower left corner over the upper right corner
Turn it over
Rip off the bottom right corner


Then stop and have everyone open their eyes. You will notice that even though everyone had the same instructions and the same material, all of the results will likely look different. Each person will have interpreted the instructions differently e.g. a big rip or a small one.


Listening activity: Data recall

Do you recall that childhood memory game of looking at a tray with 20 items on it and then seeing who remembers the most items 5 minutes later? Well, there is a listening skills version as well. Ask a friend or colleague to write a list of 10 random items. Then listen carefully as they read the list to you. Wait 5 minutes (do something else) and then explore how many you remember. You can build on this activity by increasing the number of items to be recalled and/or the interval between listening and recall testing.


Listening activity: Letting the speaker talk

You will need a practice partner for this activity. In a 10-minute time period, ask the speaker to describe a situation (one that is comfortable for them e.g. a special event). During this time, the listener is to use a maximum of 3 verbal prompts and the rest of the time, use non-verbal (e.g. raised eyebrows or a hand gesture) and sub-verbal (e.g. “uh-huh”) language to keep the speaker engaged in speaking.

Finally, to further develop your ability to consistently pay attention in conversations, for the next 10 days, at the end of every ‘information-based’ conversation, create a mental summary of the key points.


We hope you’ve enjoyed this blog about listening and hypnosis, and if you have any more questions about this topic, or anything else for that matter, do please get in touch, because we’re always happy to help!

– written by Dr Kate Beaven-Marks
(Hypnosis-Courses.com Trainer)

Dr Kate Beaven-Marks Hypnosis Courses Online hypnosis training

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