Think about the last meaningful conversation you were in. It could have been a work environment, with a friend, or perhaps a romantic partner, a parent or close loved one. Visualize yourself in that engagement. Imagine yourself there, in the seat of the listener. Their face staring back at yours as they perhaps shared something important or expressed something difficult or emotional. Now answer this question honestly - were you listening?
Let us first make an important distinction here and now -listening and hearing are not the same. One is an automatic function of being a human that will occur without any effort on your part from now until the end of time (generally speaking, obvious adaptations aside) and the other requires you to give a damn. My favorite way to define listening is - a willingness to be impacted by what I hear. It asks you to consider the needs of the other, to be present, and to welcome the possibility that something that comes through might be of value to you as the one receiving it. It also means that there is value in simply receiving for the sake of the person sharing.
Today I had the privilege of working alongside a friend and collaborator, and another partner of his. I got to observe two very different people who have a very meaningful partnership, and who each have unique and sometimes opposing viewpoints. In taking the unbiased seat of a third party observer, I watched communication unfold in a way that was so telling, and I was reminded again of the nuances in listening, and what exactly contributes to a powerful and impactful dialogue through this lens. Today I’m inspired to share some tools that are handy to keep in your back pocket as you journey forth not just as a listener, but a really good listener.
- Assess your position: Take a look at where you’re listening from, and get real here, because nothing else is possible if you’re not honest. The first step in the art of listening is to just tune in and see where you’re at. What we’re looking for here is anything that could result in judgement of some kind. Step into the dialogue being fully informed as to whats vibrating within your own energy, and check in to see if there’s anything that might influence how you arrive in a way that produces a barrier to entry for the sharer.
- Let your shit go: if your intention is truly to arrive as a listener, then releasing any attachment to your point being landed, to any stories or assumptions you’re carrying being true, or to any judgements based on past experiences - is essential. That is not to say that your needs in any relationship or conversation cease to be of importance, certainly they still are, and it’s up to the other to create that space for you. When we take the seat of the listener, we invite a quality of surrender to enter our dialogue. We don’t generate any force around what we speak, we're open to being impacted by what we hear, and we notice when we're letting that ego-based need take control.
- Repeat what you heard: So, so often, our own biases, experiences and conditioning contribute to HOW we receive this information. Today I could see where a breakdown occurred, and where one person was definitely taking in the communication differently than it was intended, so I interjected and asked “what did you hear in what they said?” and gave this person the opportunity to repeat what they heard, and the other person the opportunity to clarify. What we’re interested in here is common ground. That our words land with intent and in alignment with their point of origin. And obviously, there’s no mediator needed to be in this practice. Simply asking “what are you hearing in what I’m saying?” let’s the other person know that you care and that you’re present and invested.
- Let compassion be your guide: When all else fails, lead with your heart. When we let love in, we see others as reflections of ourselves. As human and has having needs just like us. If the roles were reversed, what would you be asking of your listener? The nature of the relationship doesn’t matter, professional or personal, there’s room for us to extend kindness no matter the framework that you operate in. We create the conditions for the truth of what connects us to be revealed, and let the light in.
- Be here now: Simply arrive here. The present moment is complete with all that we need, no matter our role. If your commitment is to being present, then there is nothing to add or take away for everyone to have what is essential. Being present means I'm nowhere else but here with you. And if you find yourself struggling with distraction or a wandering mind, notice the opportunity to re-ground.
Truly listening takes practice and a bit of finesse, but I’m confident that with commitment, anyone can harness the skill and bear witness to the occurrence of a powerful shift. It begins when we interrupt auto-pilot, and arrive in the present moment with intention.