by Gail Brenner of A Flourishing Life
“The most basic and powerful way to connect to another person is to listen. Just listen. Perhaps the most important thing we ever give each other is our attention. A loving silence often has far more power to heal and to connect than the most well-intentioned words.”
Rachel Naomi Remen
Listening is an undervalued art in our society, yet it is one of the keys to fulfilling relationships. True listening goes well beyond hearing the words that are spoken. It involves opening ourselves to deeply understand the experience of the other. We listen not just with our minds to comprehend the ideas being expressed, but we open our hearts to fully receive the person before us as they are.
We all know what it feels like to not be fully listened to. I have a friend who used to multi-task when we spoke on the phone. He would respond appropriately to what I was saying, but I could hear him shuffling papers and answering emails. Even though he was following the conversation, I felt bereft as I was sharing my innermost thoughts and feelings. Fortunately, our friendship was more important than his to-do list, and now I happily get his full attention.
Benefits of Good Listening
Deep listening reduces isolation and fosters connection. If you are experiencing challenging interactions or you want your connections to deepen, reflect on how you can improve your listening skills. The benefits are numerous:
- People will feel be more drawn to you; they will like you more.
- You will learn something new.
- You will have the information to solve problems more effectively.
- You will experience less loneliness and frustration.
- You will feel happier and more relaxed.
At the core, all of us want to be fully seen and accepted as is. When you listen from the heart, everyone wins. The offering of this most treasured gift dissolves walls and heals division. Learn to listen from the heart, and watch your relationships thrive.
Use Your Powers of Observation
Listen deeply to all the ways your conversation partner is communicating with you by observing. Notice the distance between you, eye movements, skin tone changes, arm and hand movements, tone of voice, pace of speaking. You are certain to discover something you’ve never noticed before.
A while ago, I was interacting with someone I didn’t know very well. I asked a question, and saw her skin turn pale and her eyes look down. I knew something had shifted and soon discovered I had inadvertently touched a very sore spot.
What to do with the information you glean? Use it to stay in rapport with your partner. If the person you are speaking with is hesitating, wait before jumping in. If emotion is beginning to show, be empathic. If your goal is to stay connected and take the conversation deeper, your observations will guide you, as people can’t help but express themselves in a multitude of ways. See your partner with fresh eyes and you are sure to reach a new level of connection.
Pay Full Attention
Research shows that we speak at a rate of about 125 words per minute, yet we have the capacity to listen to approximately 400 words per minute. This leaves 275 words per minute of extra space in our minds when someone else is talking. What do we do with that space? We fill it up with extraneous thoughts.
Paying attention is the cardinal rule for good listening. Hear the words, and let their meaning in. If your mind wanders, simply re-focus your attention. Ask questions to find out what really matters to the person you are speaking with.
How Are You Showing Up?
Deep listening happens only when you are open and receptive. If you begin the conversation with an agenda, you are not going to be available to fully hear what the other person is saying.
At the proper time, you will have the opportunity to express yourself. But when you are listening, be empty. Put yourself aside so you are hearing directly rather than through your own filters. Resist the temptation to jump to conclusions or assume you know what the person is going to say. Clear your mind of expectations, and lovingly open your heart to the unknown.
Read Between the Lines
Nonviolent communication is a beautifully articulated process that facilitates peaceful interactions. It focuses on listening for the other’s feelings and needs. No matter what words you are hearing, try to detect the feeling and/or need that is being expressed. Check your understanding by reflecting the feeling (“It sounds like you are feeling…”) or asking if your conclusion is correct (“Are you saying that you need more time?”).
Active listening is a skill that allows you to see if you are on track. When someone is speaking, make sure you can repeat what you just heard, and if you can’t, ask for clarification. You might be surprised at how much you are missing. When you think you’ve gotten it, verify your understanding, as in “So what you are saying is….”
Patience is a Virtue
I’m sure you have noticed that people have different styles of communicating. Some speak fluidly, while others hesitate. Some are wordy, others succinct. Honor the style of the person you are conversing with by not interfering or interrupting. When you feel the urge, take a breath and reconnect with what is being said. You are opening your heart when you give people the space to simply be as they are.
Get a Fresh Perspective
Have you ever had the same problematic conversation with someone over and over? Transform the relationship by redoubling your efforts to listen deeply. Let go of your need to be right or your ideas about what the other person should be saying or doing, and hear them as if for the first time. Be curious, and you are certain to learn something new that can break an impasse or shift a frustrating dynamic.
When we listen deeply we meet as one. Whether or not we agree with what we hear, listening from the heart invites us to be present in our interactions and to explore our own defenses and barriers. When we put down our positions and expectations, we are alive in the moment. Then our hearts are open wide, and our relationships can flourish.
Do you think you could listen better? What have you learned from really listening to others?
Read more from Gail on her blog A Flourishing Life.