Do not listen with the intent to reply, but with the intent to understand. —Anonymous
Listening is somewhat like an art form, and as in music or dance you only become proficient with practice. There are countless meanings assigned to the act of listening. You can listen with your heart, you can listen to your intuition, you can listen to mantras of religion or stories you’ve been told since childhood. The listening I am referring to is about how we listen to ourselves and others, which all of the above influence. Without sincere listening, communication breaks down, misunderstandings flare, and a sense of dread and loneliness can cause you to feel frustrated or anxious.
To lessen the problems non listening creates, here a few ways to develop and enhance your ability to listen. When you are truly listening to another person, find the takeaway. In other words, look to understand what that person is trying to say? Avoid reading into or interpreting, tease away your own biases. If what they are saying is ambiguous, murky or makes no sense to you, simply ask for clarification, or mirror to them what you feel their message is.
When you are actively listening, you will more than likely have questions, hold them until the person is finished. Often many of us are too eager to spew out our response, or wisdom, or opinion that we forget to fully hear what the other person is saying. If you find yourself preoccupied with focusing and crafting what you think, you are not listening. Or if you realize that your reply has nothing to do with what the other person is saying, you were not paying attention. Watch professional interviews, you can always spot an interviewer who is not listening by their response, it will be in left field regardless that the statement was right and center.
Naturally it is easier to listen to people you share common ground with, it is difficult and challenging to listen to those you don’t. Let’s put this in the realm of relationships. Your partner may have been raised with strict rules and there was little wiggle room for self exploration. You on the other hand had a family that encouraged independent thinking. You fall in love, but after the honeymoon phase, you find you are arguing over just about everything. More than likely, it is a lack of listening to each other…listening without hearing. Whew, that is a tough one. However, when you begin to practice real listening, you can not only muddle through tough conversations, you may actually begin to see resolutions. When you let down the defenses and say to yourself, this isn’t about me, it is about the other you can learn to listen with love, empathy, and a deeper understanding that leads to connection.
Spiritual leader Ram Dass has a plethora of quotes that remind us that listening requires going beyond our ego. “We are fascinated by the words, but where we meet is in the silence behind them.” It is in the quiet recess of your consciousness that the truth or impact of words reverberates. Words themselves are simply nouns, verbs, adverbs, tools with which to communicate. yet somehow, they can cut us deeply or be profoundly motivating. When you think about how people without hearing communicate it is interesting because they still use language just not necessarily words. If you have ever traveled to a country where English or your mother tongue is not spoken, you find that you can still communicate through gestures, although the risk for misconstruing someone’s intentions is much higher. The fact is, words are only part of communicating with another.
A huge part of learning to listen to others is listening to yourself. If you are constantly filling your mind and energy with some diversion, you cannot hear your inner thoughts or desires or spiritual guidance. Think about a time that a teacher, a friend, a mentor said something that resonated with you so deeply it changed your life forever. It was that time you spent meditating or pondering the words or intentions of the person that shared them with you that allowed you to see the truth and significance to them.
Learning active listening will change the way you communicate forever, and it will enhance your relationships and confidence