Listening: A Tool for Life
Why is something we do all the time, so hard to do? Listening…
Listening is a gift of our time and attention. If your goal is to be a better listener, a good place to start is understanding that listening takes 100% focus. Focus is harder than ever to come by, so it makes sense that we’re losing points at listening in our culture. Ability to focus on what we’re being told and not think, say, or do anything else is listening. This type of focus is openheartedness. Openheartedness: Opening our heart to who we are listening to as our primary attention. No judgment. No focus on response. Just Listening.
“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand, they listen with the intent to reply.” —Stephen Covey
Listening with openheartedness is a presence of curiosity. I can hold a belief that the speaker will reveal something I don’t know yet, like a treasure. When I listen with openheartedness, I believe the speaker is an expert in their lives and I can relax in my role of doing or expert. All I have to be is a loving listener.
To show up openheartedly, I need to let go of wanting to respond. This can be hard to do when we’re excited by the topic, have experiences that are similar, or feel we have a prior knowledge. Imagine letting go of the mental chatter: Chattering solutions…Chattering being right…Chattering our wants… Instead, we let go of our own thoughts in order to fully receive the speaker’s words. This focuses our attention. The great thing about listening in this way is that we can rest in ease. My only job is to listen to understand what is shared. What is different about this perspective of listening? When was the last time you were really listened to?
I noticed when I listen to understand, there’s more room in the relationship. When I listen to learn, I am offering the speaker an expansive space to share. Space creation happens when we put down our preferences to be fully present. Common preferences are being the expert which means knowing the subject versus not knowing. We also like conversations to be certain, dependable, and predictable so that we can fill in the blanks in our mind. Finally, people prefer pleasure over pain. All these preferences can cause us to push the speaker away by not wanting to listen to their thoughts. Preferences can put pressure on a conversation to stop sharing to make the listener more comfortable. When was the last time you could talk freely and share a unique idea, an unexpected happening, or grief fully? These are harder topics to navigate in common culture because of human preferences. Openhearted listening allows for any direction, any feeling, and any experience to be talked about.
Use these tips to unlearn bad listening habits:
Take off the fix-it hat.
Don’t touch your phone.
Don’t predict or expect what is about to be said. Staying present allows the teller to unfold the story. Don’t jump ahead or try to figure out where it leads.
Listen to discover. It is a gift to share the journey with the speaker. Practice listening in silence and attention. It is freeing not focusing on your response, but rather simply focusing on what’s being said.
Don’t take over the conversation. Allow all the speaker’s words to be said. As Will Roger said, “Never miss a good chance to shut up.”
Listen with the goal of focus.
Be curious and wonder.
Open up and ask questions.
Own it if you get distracted. Own it if you get lost. “Forgive me, I am a little lost. What did you want me to know about this?” We all get lost at times and requires re-orientation in the conversation. Sometimes we can get lost in the weeds. Clarifying questions help. “What do you feel is important about this? Could you tell me the heart of it? I’m not sure what you want me to know about this.”
Be careful with the speaker’s heart. Tender sharing requires tender listening.
“Deep listening is the kind of listening that can help relieve the suffering of another person. You can call it compassionate listening. You listen with only one purpose: to help him or her to empty his heart.” — Thich Nhat Hanh
Feeling uncertain how to be a better listener?
Listen to mirror back what you are told and ask, “Did I get that right?” Notice what you discovered about the speaker. “Wow, that sounded hard. How are you doing?”
Ask the speaker how they want to be listened to. “Do you want me to listen until your words are done?” “What do you hope to get out of this conversation?” “What do you want to walk away with?”
Raquel Welch said, “You can’t fake listening. It shows.”
You cannot use these tools without caring about the speaker. Openheartedness is genuine interest and delight in the person speaking. There is an intimacy and immediacy to listening in this way.
Listening to the end of someone’s words helps them to empty their heart and travel lighter. It is an amazing gift we give another. Need help knowing where to begin? Pick one area of focus from the tips above and stick to listening. Old habits take time to break but the rewards are deep and meaningful in all your relationships.