The importance of talking and listening

Most everyone spends large portions of their day talking and listening. People do so from the moment they wake up until the moment they go to bed – we talk to our families, our friends, our coworkers, our clients and sometimes even to ourselves or to strangers at the grocery store. It is such an ingrained part of daily living that we may not pay much attention to how or why we communicate the way that we do. We may be more aware when we experience times that we do not feel heard or feel like we may be having a hard time understanding someone else’s perspective.

In a review of several different studies in “Psychology Today,” Dr. Dreher discusses how there are neurological reasons that talking about our problems helps us feel better. Much of psychotherapy is based on the trust that is built between the clinician and the client and the client’s ability to be comfortable enough to share their thoughts and emotions. Being able to share our feelings with someone we trust can reduce both physical and emotional distress and help strengthen our immune systems. When someone labels their feelings, they reduce the activity in the emotion center of their brain, the amygdala, which is responsible for activating our ingrained “fight or flight” response. When we verbalize emotions, the parts of the brain that are responsible for creating language and establishing meaning in the prefrontal cortex are activated. Writing can also be a powerful way to release our emotions. Having to keep difficult or painful emotions to ourselves can increase our stress levels, which can cause physical illness in addition to mental or emotional struggles. By sharing with others, and even by paying attention to the emotions we experience, we can help reduce the stress associated with keeping things to ourselves and be more mindful.

Listening is another important part of communicating and there are many things that compete with our ability to listen fully or deeply. Everyone values feeling heard, which is one reason many people choose to participate in therapy. Deep listening, as discussed by Brad Waters in “Psychology Today,” involves more than just active listening and requires listeners to empathize with the other person.

Sometimes people listen to understand and sometimes they listen to respond. Those who are listening to respond may feel pressured to come up with a response or maybe waiting for an opportunity to share something about themselves that relates to the conversation. It may also be that they want to appear to be listening so that they can move the conversation forward, especially if the conversation is challenging. The nature of electronic communication also takes away from peoples’ ability to share their story and hear the stories of others.

When people are listening to understand, they are present in the moment and able to begin to feel what it is like to experience the other person’s reality. Mr. Waters discusses previous studies that identify four levels of listening, which include:

  1. Downloading
  2. Factual Listening
  3. Empathetic Listening
  4. Generative Listening

With each level, listening becomes more involved and requires increasing openness and vulnerability. When people are able to deeply listen, the other person is able to feel deeply heard and feels that they are cared about and understood. Communicating in ways that make us feel heard and understood helps strengthen our relationships and our perceived quality of those relationships. There may be times that factual listening is appropriate, but we want to be mindful of the context and the relationship that we have with the other person. Generative and deep listening are the most rewarding in our interpersonal relationships, especially with those who we feel especially close.

For Help: 

If someone you know is experiencing difficulty, let them know they are not alone and you are willing to assist them with finding the help they need.  Sometimes just knowing you’re not alone is powerful in helping others seek the help they need.

If you or someone you know needs immediate mental health assistance, you can access a local crisis program, such as Carilion’s CONNECT (540-981-8181), go to the nearest emergency room or call 911.   Remember, it’s better to get help for yourself or someone else if needed.  Getting help is better than the alternative.

Family Service of Roanoke Valley and Psychological Health Roanoke have qualified and experienced clinicians available to help you and your family. Psychological Health Roanoke provides EAP benefit services to Family Service employees, including a monthly newsletter with timely tips like this.


  1. Dreher, Diane, Ph.D. Why Talking about Our Problems Makes Us Feel Better.  Psychology Today, retrieved on June 12, 2019 from
  2. Waters, Brad, MSW. “Deep Listening” Changed My Life and My Love. Psychology Today, retrieved on June 12, 2019 from