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  • Ricka Robb Kohnstamm

Be honest - do you listen with aggressive intent? 

When we make the effort to stand back and watch our own behavior honestly, we can often recognize aggression embedded in many of the ways we listen to our colleagues, family, friends, and our communities.

We may approach conversations with avoidant aggression by not paying attention or dismissing what is being said out of pocket. Perhaps we feel our shackles going up before the needy mother-in-law even opens her mouth, or the crabby colleague makes another snarky comment. Or the neighbor who drones on and on about Antifa? Easier to not even hear. We roll our ears up and aggressively avoid listening.

Or we might look like we're listening, but we're actually being aggressive by defensively formulating our own story line and as soon as there is space (or even BEFORE there is space) we shove it to the top of the word pig pile. I know better! I know more! You are wrong! You are crazy! If only you did it my way, it would work! Listen to me!!!! I will win this argument!

We yearn to be heard while not listening to others. I matter, we say. Yes, and so does the other person. They matter, too. It is a critical paradox. The more I listen with curiosity and compassion, the more I hear. And the more I hear, the more likely it is that I, too, will be in a position to feel heard.

Curiosity and compassion are available to us through active listening as soon as we drop the habit of aggression.

Gently soften your own aggressive communication walls and step into active listening to increase your chances of hearing others, as well as being heard yourself ...

Focus exclusively on what the other person is saying and make space. Notice how habitual it is to pull what the other person is saying apart and to start to formulate your own response with judgment or with intent to change their mind or influence their opinion. Instead, simply lean in, listen deeply. Don't interrupt, don't talk over, be OK with silence as the other person continues to formulate their thoughts. Make space. Be a good listener.

Get curious about needs under the surface. Our words are merely the surface decoration of what is being communicated. Listen under the surface... Is the ornery patient, under the lists and lists of complaints, really saying "I am lonely"? Is the young adult who continues to take scary risks really saying "I need you to see me and I'll do whatever it takes for that to happen"? Is the sister-in-law who seems to have no boundaries really saying "I am feeling out of control - and unsafe"? Listen under the surface and then don't assume you know, but reflect back. "I hear how many things are causing discomfort for you right now... and I'm curious if you've got enough community around you or if you are feeling really lonely?" Get familiar with universal needs, notice the "ping" in your belly as you listen deeply, then get brave and go there.

Listen to know, express empathy. Reflect back what you hear, with heart. "Ouch, that breakup sounds so painful and confusing." "You must feel so proud of your daughter's accomplishments, you've done such a good job as a parent!" "I can hear clearly that my leadership style is causing some issues. That is hard to hear, but I want to hear more. I appreciate how difficult that must have been to share with me. Thank you."

Pause. And then pause again. What really matters to you in conversation with this person? What do you really need to say? What is the conversation asking for? Pause to consider. And then step in with nonaggression and kindness. "I would like to take some time to consider what you've just told me." "I love that you told me this. Let me sit with it a bit." "I am feeling cranky right now, let me get something to eat and then we'll get back to this in a half hour, if that is OK with you." Give yourself permission to intentionally frame and practice how you enter, non-aggressively into conversations.

Then notice. As you drop the aggression, you may feel like you are floating to the surface - with ease and renewed energy. And that feels pretty healthy.

Actions, aligned with values, support optimal health.


Hello, I'm Ricka.

Ricka Kohnstamm Executive & Physician Coach Profile Photo

I'm a Nationally Board Certified (NBC-HWC) Integrative Health and Wellbeing Coach. I specialize in working with physician leaders, corporate leaders, non-profit executives and their families to navigate complex work and personal issues so they can strengthen their relationships, heal, and feel hopeful about the future again. 



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