The Art Of Listening. Really Listening
I’ve been having quite a few conversations about listening recently. A client courageously questioned whether she really was a good listener. An ongoing conversation about how listening is an act of love. It’s given me plenty of food for thought.
From watching the world, I’ve come to believe that we’re really good at hearing and not very good at listening. True listening involves a lot more than just the biological process of sound waves being converted into neurons firing in your brain.
Here’s my take on what listening is and isn’t:
It is active, it’s not passive
- Simply hearing what someone else says to you is passive but really listening involves tuning into the other person’s tone of voice, pitch, pace and use of pauses. If you’re in front of them, listening also involves taking in their body language. It’s about being mindful of everything they are leaving out as well as what they’re including. Hearing is passive, listening is a full contact activity.
It is about giving your full attention to the other person, it’s not “the lights are on but no one’s at home”
- I really, truly believe that giving someone the gift of your full and present attention is about the most loving thing you can do. It’s the difference between having a conversation while you’re distracted with the washing up/TV/newspaper/smartphone and putting all that crap aside and committing to be there for that other person and absolutely nowhere else.
It is about tuning into the other person, it’s not just waiting for your turn to talk
- So many conversations look like this. You’re so anxious for the next break in the conversation you can barely sit still. When you’re doing this, you’re completely checked out of the conversation because you’re up in your head constructing a finely tuned riposte or erudite retort. You’re giving them, oohhhh, a generous 20% of your attention…this type of listening doesn’t result in the other person feeling really and truly heard by you.
It is about being open and staying curious about the other person, it’s not “I know this already”
- Whenever I’m teaching anything, I always begin by inviting my students or clients to adopt “a beginners mind”. This is a Buddhist idea which invites you to really listen as if you’ve never met this person before. When you’re listening to someone and inwardly groaning that you’ve heard the story or you’re having this conversation again, you’re not really listening to that person. You’ve squashed all of their magnificence into a tiny box, made them predictable and boring and decided ahead of time that you know them better than they do. You don’t. Stay curious about this delicious, delightful perhaps even crazy-making person in front of you and allow them to teach you something new about who they are.
It is about checking in your assumptions at the door, it’s not “here’s what I think you meant”
- We all do this because we’ve only ever had our experience of being on the planet. We listen to what someone else is saying and we immediately try to fit it into our frame of reference for the world, we colour what they said with our stories, our experiences, our judgements and our own unique filters. At its most dangerous, this can blossom into defensive listening where you’re listening out for the precise words and phrases that cut you right to the core. I once saw some awesome graffiti which sums this up perfectly: “I know that’s what you heard…but it’s not what I said”. The key here is awareness, notice if what the other person is saying is triggering off an old story or pattern and recognise what’s happening for what it really is.
If listening is to be an act of love, it requires curiosity above all else. When you aren’t curious about the person you’re listening to you make them flat, one-dimensional, predictable and somehow less of a real person.
But…when you are curious, when you do give that other person the gift of your full attention…well, who knows where you might be at the end of your next chin wag.
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