The Importance of Learning How to Truly Listen in Your Relationships
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PHIL: Listening. We think that if we hear all the words, we are listening, but what happens is that the words fire off all kinds of thoughts in our head – responses, word associations, old feelings – and this can happen with every phrase, so it is worse than trying to follow a conversation in a noisy restaurant. To truly listen to someone, we have to still that voice and pay attention to the person and what they are saying. They don’t just say it with words; they say it with tone of voice, hunch of shoulder, flurries of feelings, pauses to reach inside. We need to pay attention to the whole message.
This message is also experienced directly in our body. We have so-called mirror neurons that respond when the same neurons in another person fire. These might be actions, facial expressions or pain responses. When another person is speaking, our mirror neurons are reacting to the speaker’s feelings, and so to listen fully, we must be aware of what our body is hearing, too.
Easier said than done. Even if we don’t interrupt, we’re likely to be preparing a response. It might be showing understanding by describing our own experience. It might be trying to put their tale in proportion by saying we’ve had a much worse experience. It might be trying to boost our self-image: “That reminds me of when I was in Italy…”
The way to avoid these is to remember that it’s not about us, it’s about them. By paying full attention to what they are saying, we can remove focus from ourselves and in this way, hear more clearly what they are communicating. What also happens is that they feel fully heard. They can read our body language, too; we’re not playing with our phone as if it were rosary beads or glancing around the restaurant at those other conversations. Fully listening to another is a great gift.When listening, don’t wait to speak or be formulating a response. Just be present and listen #quote Click To Tweet
MAUDE: Learning how to listen to others is one of the most important components of connecting, and a primary part of all relationships. You would think that everyone would learn to do that as they grow. And yet, there is often so much going on in the mind of the listener that it fairly drowns out any chance of truly hearing what the other is saying.
To have peaceful loving relationships you must learn to listen and to do so with intention. This involves learning to still the clamor of your own thoughts and to be able to put yourself aside, bringing an open heart and mind to embrace the sharing you are being offered.
Listen with intention to hear the other person, to learn about them, to be there for them to feel heard, to gain understanding, to find mutuality. This precludes preconceptions, judgments, or making it about you. That is often easier said then done, as learning how to listen is rarely taught. When you set those intentions and put the goal of peace and loving exchanges foremost, it will transform your relationships.
Last week in our blog we wrote “Be loving today – you can be right tomorrow.” One reader commented, “Thanks, for that reminder: Listening with love preceding being right. And relinquishing the ‘being right’ stance at the START of listening, surprised me into hearing my own immediate expectations of the other person.”
Going into a conversation with an open heart without the desire to win or be right changes the whole dynamic. It allows an open ended exchange without a preconceived outcome. It pulls the whole experience into the present where you can hear what is being said and be a loving presence for the other.
“When you love someone, the best thing you can offer is your presence. How can you love if you are not there?” Thich Nhat Hanh
When listening with full loving presence, you are not waiting to speak, nor are you formulating a response. You are not there to fix the person, tell your own stories of how you’ve had similar experiences, or offer solutions. That may be another part of the conversation, but it has no place in active listening. When listening, pay attention to all of the communication. Look at the person; what is their body saying, their tone of voice, their gestures and facial expressions?
For the person sharing, it is profoundly powerful to be truly listened to, and when being listened to in this manner, you can often hear yourself much better as well. Feeling heard creates a sense of peace within that is a true balm to the spirit. As we grow and share together, let’s learn to listen and hear each other. Start by setting this intention and move toward practicing it as often as possible. This is one of the ways we can spread peace one relationship at a time.
Photo credit: Phil Mayes
Photo note: Statues by George Segal in Christopher Park, across from Stonewall Inn, NYC.
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Thanks, as always. This was very useful.
I appreciate what you say about practicing listening to others with a whole mind. It’s all too easy to feel threatened by a competitive attitude, as if someone has to be wrong in order for you to be right. It’s such a relief to know that we can all be right just by trusting that God loves us all as we are.