Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Magic of Listening


I hear you. Really. Completely. And, I realize that's a rare thing for most of us. To be heard. To feel listened to...to be attended to...so I want you to know that I hear you.

I admit, that it's a natural gift of mine. I came with it. But, I deliberately worked to hone my skill in this regard. Not through hours of listening to those and things around me, but by taking courses in it. Reading about it. Working in industries that required it as part of being successful.

If you need a good listener, with all modesty I submit that, I am just who you need.

Is listening a skill that can be developed? Absolutely. So, why are there so many crappy listeners? Probably for the same reason there are so many crappy writers. Just because you own a piece of paper and a pen doesn't mean you know what to effectively do with them; just because you have two ears and can hear doesn't mean you can listen.

Hearing ain't listening.

In case you didn't hear me or weren't listening just then, let me repeat: Hearing isn't listening. Hearing is an autonomic response. Listening is a mental desire to connect. We get them confused. We need to be conscious of the differences.

The skill is in the listening. And, here's the really tricky thing...contrary to what you may think, you don't determine if you're listening; the other person decides if you're listening! You can confirm that you heard the sounds they made, but only they, by how they feel about the exchange, determine if you are successful; determine if you are, 'listening to me.'

Now that, my friends, is something you should sit with for awhile, because that's really powerful information to wrap your head around! A person determines whether you were listening because of how they 'feel' during the process. Listening engenders feelings. Hearing doesn't.

So why don't most of us really excel at listening? I think it's because there's an 'I' in listening. There shouldn't be. 'I' represents the ego. Looking at a situation from the inside out...driving the bus with what we know to be true. Interjecting our thoughts and feelings into the moment.

It's the 'I' that separates us from the magic of the moment. Instead of sitting openly and hearing every thing that is shared, we jump ahead to what we want to say in response...tell the other what we think...often finishing their sentences for them to get to the juicy part of sharing our fabulous wisdom and insights.

And often, we leap to conclusions that aren't correct. How many times have you done so in your, well to be kind- let's call it 'enthusiasm'- only to have the person say, "No, that wasn't what I was going to say." That's embarrassing. Or, if it isn't then you're really not listening. Not even hearing. Our ego stops our ability to be present to another. Ego is only concerned about the self...not anyone or anything outside of that. I wish there was no 'I' in listening. It would make it easier for us to be heard. To feel connected and cherished.

But, the 'I' is also the challenge to help us become real Human Beings. To develop this magic that is taken for granted by most. If you want to be perceived as one who really connects to people, start here.

To actively listen to someone is the best gift you can give, making them feel singularly important. You know what it feels like: You meet someone engaging in their openness. They connect using their eyes, which make you feel like you're the most important thing in their world. The environment recedes; you feel like it's just the two of you, nothing else around. Your listener nods and uses body language providing visual cues confirming that you are being heard. They wait patiently until you complete your thought, responding only after you're finished. Which fluidly sets up the next round of exchange.

Listening is magic. Truly.

So few of us feel cherished. Special. Necessary. One of the ways we can give that feeling to another is by listening to them.

Do not confuse listening with understanding!

It's not necessary for you to understand how the other is feeling. Or believe it necessary to change or correct their feelings. Feelings aren't facts...they're feelings. You can still listen to a person tell their story even if it's in another language. Listening transcends understanding. And listening transforms misunderstanding. I'm telling you, it's mundane magic.

The other day, when Doog and I were talking about what he has learned over his many years as a massage therapist, he shared that he really can't describe what happens to make his clients feel better. Like many things in life, you start out initially thinking you know what's going on with a process because you've been educated about it...

But, as you mature in your craft, you begin to realize that there's so much more that's happening that defies easy description. Complex things on levels unseen are occuring. I nodded in agreement because that's my experience in my Reiki sessions. As a Reiki Master Teacher, I can attune you to Reiki and give you the tools, but I can't technically explain the nuances of healing or how a person feels better. I don't 'do' anything, but I am completely, 100 per cent present to the client in a session. Perhaps that's where the magic resides, in the being present part.

So like most things, the more you know about it, the less you know about it. I love that part. But, getting back to Doog, he said, "The less I do and the more I listen, the more happens." Just as it always happens when Spirit is speaking through us, the hairs on my neck stood up. That's a very powerful statement.

Healing, being, love, support, compassion happen in listening; not doing. If we would stop all our doing, and sit with another in total open willingness...sit in active listening mode...we'd create a sacred space where all possibility resides. It's a miracle that we can give another.

There are lots of books about the art of listening. If you've never read one, consider investigating it. One that I like is entitled, The Zen of Listening: Mindful Communication In The Age of Distraction, by Rebecca Z. Shafir. And, I'd like to continue this critical conversation if you'll help me by asking questions or leaving comments. Can you describe a moment when you felt truly listened to and how did it make you feel?

So now, I know you hear me but were you listening? Rest assured, I am listening to you!

Namaste' Till Next Time,
Holly aka The Listener

12 comments:

Opie said...

I too hold the listening gift, unless of course someone is talking about me. This is one of my biggest "faults" I can not take advice, I can not listen to people when they talk about me, good or bad. I do not listen. Talk about anything else, and I'm there, I'm a great listener. (Just ask Melissa)

Sara said...

What a wonderful topic for a post. I have been actively trying to listen more. I have always been a pretty good listener, but I know there is room for improvement. And how wonderful it really is, to actually listen to others and learn more about them. And like you said, to be able to feel. Feeling, whether good or bad, is all part of the experience.

Cam@Journey Wildly said...

As usual, you tuned in to the waves floating around me...

This past week, I have been spending time with a 4 month old baby boy while his mama is newly off to work, and his daddy is also tuning his new schedule. This little boy has been pretty sick off & on for a few weeks now. His mama is still quite young, and taking those first uncertain mama steps that we all do. She has been taking him to a doctor that has been belittling her 'mama instinct', and assuring her that he is just fine.

Tuesday evening, I had to tell her that for the second day, he was lethargic, not eating, feverish, and she looked at me with these big beautiful scared eyes, and told me how her father said he should be at the hospital, but her mother said he was fine. She just didn't know what to do. Not sleeping at night, and worrying all day was clearly taking its toll on her.

So, I looked right at her, and said "He is YOUR son. You know what to do, you just have to quiet down the other noise, and listen."

They took him to the hospital yesterday morning, and contrary to Dr. McQuack's opinion, he is pretty ill. He was admitted immediately, and will be there for a few days. (Send up a prayer for him, please!)

Sometimes, the best way to practice really listening with others, is to start with truly listening to yourself, I think. There is ancient wisdom already waiting to serve you.

I love the way you weave words together, Holly. Really, just beautifully.

Holly said...

Cam, Cam, Cam!

"Sometimes, the best way to practice really listening with others, is to start with truly listening to yourself, I think."

Brillian and Beautiful, just like you! Dead spot on and so needed saying!

teachable said...

This is a wonderful topic with an interesting perspective.

In my personal experience (which is all I have to share), if I don't get the response I expect from the person to whom I am speaking, I don't always "feel" heard. I have learned, after many years in recovery, that "feelings aren't facts". Just because I don't "feel" heard, doesn't necessarily mean that the other person isn't listening.

I was taught a technique called "parroting" which is simply repeating what was said. It helps clarify miscommunications and really lets the other person know that they are being heard. I have also learned to just say to the person that I don't think that they are listening to me.

Thank you for sharing your perspective.

Holly said...

Teachable,
You raise a great point about feeling unlistened to if the person doesn't get you...I've learned to be honest and say to the person, "I don't know if I understand what you are saying, but I absolutely respect what you're sharing." I ask if they want to invest the energy to try again...to try to help me understand. I find that sometimes that's all the person wants...just to be respected for feeling what they feel.

Some feelings can't be articulated. Won't be heard for what they are...but that doesn't keep us from making certain they were listened to...if that makes sense.

Also, what you call 'parrot' listening is called 'active listening' in the art of listening. It means sending it back to the person and asking, "Did I hear you correctly?"

This is a great technique in confrontational, highly charged moments.

Thanks for the great points!

Helpful Buckeye said...

Holly,
Your line, "The less I do and the more I listen, the more happens," also actually sounds like a great line from a really good bartender or your barber or your veterinarian...don't you think?

Dave
Helpful Buckeye
Flagstaff, AZ

Holly said...

Opie,
I think all of us wish to turn a deaf ear when it comes to hearing stuff about ourselves. But, I feel everyone of us has an obligation to find our truth teller, someone we consider absolutely safe to listen to, and really listen at the exact moment we so don't want to!

I agree, you are one of those still pools of water that we like to sit next to and feel the calm.

Sara,
All of us, even those of us who are conscious of the art in listening can always improve...and I agree with you, feeling all of it is prett grand.

Dave,
Amen, Brother. Amen!

sema said...

what a profound post!
listening is a miracle we can give another is a point to remember to make others feel loved and important.
thank you.
sema

beth said...

I'm told I'm a great listener but based on what you wrote, I suck at it !!
I think they think that, because I don't judge people, so they come to me knowing that I'll listen and they'll leave feeling better because I didn't say, "well your momma was right" or "that was a stupid thing to do"....I just go along with them and make them feel better about the situation....

BUT...the one thing I know for sure is that after almost 25 years of marriage, my hubby and I suck at listening to each other...he is worse of course !

no matter what I say or when or how, I always get a "huh?" or a "what" from him and have to repeat myself and then when I do, he listens and still ends up clueless to what I'm saying....arrghhh !!! it's actually the one thing we fight about the most !!!

he is someone who doesn't talk much and he will be so random into what he's finally telling me....like from 5 days ago, and somehow he thinks I should know what or who he's talking about and I don't and it irritates me so much that he didn't talk about "it" on the day it happened and now he's expecting me to play catch-up...

I need to hire you as a therapist for us !!!

Holly said...

Beth,
I've helped lots of people learn to be better in their skills, but I'll only come to be your therapist so long as I can have you sit with me over a cup of coffee and share the beauty of the work you're doing over on your page! Sound like a deal?

Anonymous said...

Just this week, as I was witnessing my kiddo melt down like chocolate on a dashboard, I was thinking of a quote I heard: "Our most unloved need the most love."
I think the art of listening is also an act of love. If you're not loving or feeling loved, it's really hard to practice this art. And sometimes when the listening is really difficult, it's best to take a little timeout and meet again when everyone is calm. Back to me...I figured what my kiddo really needed was a hug, which she got, along with a kiss on the forehead, which turned out to be hot with fever. I should have known! I've seen the signs; she's a toddler and we've been down this road before. As Cam put it, I had to quiet down the noise and then I could listen. But it nags me still that the signs were there, and I wasn't listening. For shame.
Holly, you are in your element with this post! Well done. Let's see another about listening to body language.
Your pet

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