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  • Ricka Robb Kohnstamm

What do you hear besides the concrete?  

When presented with a challenge - a difficult conversation between coworkers, a complex conflict within a family, a potential loss of a loved one, or perhaps successfully navigating the changes that come with a new job in a different city - I have a choice to listen with different sets of "ears."

If I am listening with my "concrete ears", I hear what is on the surface, concrete things like:

  • My daughter is moving to college in a different state on August 23.

  • My coworkers aren't meeting the goals we established.

  • The CEO didn't call on me to present in the board meeting.

  • My work wasn't included in the publication.

  • My weight is fluctuating up and down by 3 pounds each week.

  • I am going to purchase a new home in a city I don't know.

  • I have restarted a medication.

  • I had a panic attack. Again.

  • My partner and I had a fight.

That is a lot of information and I can choose to stop right there.

Or, I can take it to the next level of understanding by adding another set of "ears" so that I can more deeply understand a less visible layer of what is going on for people I care about. One of my favorites is "relational ears." With my relational ears, I listen for "what does this tell me about who and what this person cares about?"

When I do that, the telling becomes richer and my understanding increases.

Here are very different things I might hear "under the surface" when I am using my relational ears. The next step is to verify instead of making assumptions, and to respond with empathy and compassion indicating that I deeply understand what is being shared, rather than simply responding with something more perfunctory.

  • My daughter is moving to college in a different state on August 23.

    • She means the world to me and even though she has been away from home for sleep away camp, this is the first time in my life that she won't be coming home within a few weeks. I know this is the natural/right thing, but my heart is breaking. I am afraid of missing her so deeply and I am embarrassed to tell people that because I feel I am expected to be excited about having my life back.

    • I am embarrassed to say that I am relieved she is going. I can't wait to have my life back, to be able to wake up in the morning and do my work with less household drama. Phew. Relief.

  • My coworkers aren't meeting the goals we established.

    • I feel let down and frustrated by people I like and count on. I can't be responsible for doing everything and yet I feel as though everything is left for me to do. I am being held accountable for the accomplishments of my department. I am burning out and need a new way to approach this so that I don't lose my mind.

    • I am aware that we have very little trust in our company and my next step is to tackle that through a difficult conversation with our CEO. I know that problems start at the top so that is where I am going to start. I believe in my team's ability to produce when they trust the leadership of the organization.

  • The CEO didn't call on me to present in the board meeting.

    • I am afraid I am losing leadership status in my company; this is the second time I have prepared a report, was on the agenda, and yet wasn't called on to present. I am not feeling seen as a woman leader, I am afraid and not sure what this means for my long-term prospects at this company.

    • I am secretly relieved! I don't feel 100% about the work we are doing and I know the CEO has my back. We will work together to create positive change so we'll both feel confident about what I will present at next month's meeting.

  • My work wasn't included in the company publication.

    • I spent an extraordinary amount of time (and an entire weekend) preparing an article representing my department's work for my company publication and it wasn't included. What gives with that? Am I not valued? Was my work replaced by the work of someone with more clout? I am exhausted and give my all. For what end?

    • I am glad. The article is strong and the work we are doing is important, I believe in my team and in myself and I think this material will "hit" better with a more senior, niche audience and I am going to explore options.

  • My weight is fluctuating up and down by 3 pounds each week.

    • I can't do this my entire life. Nothing works. I am super frustrated. I might as well give up.

    • I know why my weight is fluctuating, though I don't want to admit it out loud or even to myself. I can decide when to get serious enough to make some difficult changes in my lifestyle. I care about myself and my health enough to make these changes. I can use more support.

  • I am going to purchase a new home in a city I don't know.

    • I am overwhelmed because I will be leaving the city where my whole family lives - my grandmother is still alive and I don't want to leave her. What if I never get to see her again?

    • I am excited beyond words... can you imagine? A new city, new things to see, a different government, tons of things to explore, I don't know a soul, everything new! Yahoo!

  • I have restarted a medication.

    • I am afraid you are going to judge me. Actually, I am judging myself. Harshly.

    • I am so relieved. This medication makes it easier to ride the waves of anxiety that have become stronger throughout the pandemic - I trust myself to know when it is time to stop it again.

  • I had a panic attack. Again.

    • I never know when I am going to have a panic attack and it is super overwhelming. What the hell is wrong with me? I am so self conscious and worried about judgment from my family and coworkers.

    • Panic attacks are inconvenient, but now that I understand them better, I can be more compassionate with myself. I won't die from them, I can put a cool glass of water against my cheek and step outside, and set a timer for 20 minutes. I know I will feel better. I am going to explain this to my coworkers so they don't worry.

  • My partner and I had a fight.

    • I feel so stuck. We have the same fight over and over again. I used to love doing things with my partner, but I find myself withdrawing. Moving away. So sad.

    • We have the same fight over and over and when I look at it from a distance, I can see the pattern. That is good news because it means that when we shift our incremental behavior, it will change the outcome. I am feeling pretty excited about this!

Deepen what you hear by listening with at least two sets of ears. Notice how the possibilities expand for you and for the person you are listening to. Listening deeply helps us really, truly see others we care about.

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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