September 20, 2011

Listening with EARS

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To the Editor:

A typical day at Cornell.

As we struggle with problem sets and plow through dense course material and madly rush from home to class to meetings to parties to ––


How many times do you stop to really think about the feelings of the people you interact with — your friends, your parents, your professors, anyone really — from their perspectives without making judgments about what they should be feeling, doing, etc.?

I must admit that I am a problem solver.  I like to take the information I’m given and say, O.K., what’s the next step, how can I get from A to B?  But my freshman year I decided to be involved in EARS Beginning training, where one of the first things we were told was that giving advice was strictly not allowed.


Instead, I was taught to reflect my peers’ feelings as I conversed with them in mock counseling sessions, without any judgment, and to validate others’ experiences.  Instead of focusing on the facts or the situation, I gradually became comfortable focusing on the feelings that arose from listening to someone’s story, even the feelings that the person is unaware of himself.

As I continued EARS training, I began to listen to my friends’ problems without the immediate urge to suggest what to do.  Instead, I would listen for emotional cues, saying “That sounds really frustrating!” or “It makes a lot of sense you’re feeling ____”  instead of “You need to tell your roommate to just — .”  Sometimes I am surprised that  the people I come to for help jump to conclusions about what I’m going through and tell me what I should do without understanding what I’m really feeling.

If you need to talk to someone who’s not going to judge you nor laugh at you and keep every word you say confidential, someone who can help you sort out whatever you are going through, EARS is here to help. And the next time you have a conversation with a friend, a boyfriend, a T.A., a roommate: try to truly listen to what they’re saying (and not saying) — you just might learn a lot.

Yuliya Shteynberg ’12