You Want a Better Relationship? Listen
I hear this scenario in couples all the time. All of a sudden he wakes up to the moment and hears, "Are you listening to me?" She asks as the muscles in her face begin to tighten and the spark of frustration ignites in the couple. "Ofcourse, I heard what you said," he retorts and then follows with a list of the words that his brain caught while she was talking. This isn’t too foreign to any of us and for some reason this response usually doesn't relieve the situation between two people. Why it’s important to become a better listener.
When we're speaking to someone we want them to listen to us, not hear us. Listening and hearing are two different processes with the former being a conscious process of intentionally paying attention to the person, and the latter is a passive process of the words just filtering through our ears to our brain. There is that anonymous saying "We were given two ears and one mouth for a reason,” to cultivate the skill and gift of listening.
How does the active skill listening turn into the passive act of hearing in our relationships? As we live our day to day lives we make little micro decisions that lay just beneath our consciousness about whom and what we're going to pay attention to. What happens is we begin to develop filters in our minds about what we're going to intentionally pay attention to and what we're not. It's as if we get kicked into auto-pilot, with no intentional focus in the moment. You can hear, but you're not listening.
This can easily happen with those closest to us. Our minds think we know what is and is not important to pay attention to so we filter out what people are saying in order to pay attention to other things, usually stuff in our own minds. In doing this, we miss out on connecting with the people who may be most supportive to us in our lives. As we do this a disconnection begins to grow which can lead to a downward spiral of miscommunication, frustration, hurt, and potentially loss of the relationship as we knew it.
First, when someone is speaking to you, see if you can pay attention to them and not interrupt them until they are completely finished speaking.
Second, notice when your mind begins to wander off to thinking about what you need to do later that day, or some grievance of the past, or the brilliant counterargument that you need to make. When it does this, just become aware of it, and then intentionally bring your attention back to listening. See if you can practice this with an attitude of curiosity.
Third, when the person has finished, take a breath before you speak.
Remember, you are not going to be perfect at this, so every time you aren't able to do this, see if you can forgive yourself and use that moment as an insight to practice listening. You may do this again and again. When people feel listened to, not only do they feel more connected to you, but also feel less on guard or defensive. This creates the space for an entirely more fruitful space for dialogue and connection.
In The Now Effect I write about a story called Brother Bruno and the Frog that shows how we can transform a source of frustration into a moment of clarity and joy just by listening. In doing this practice, you may find that you are taking in so much more of life than you used to. How will your holiday season change, how will your relationships at work change, how will your relationships at home change?
Whatever you do, don't take my word for it, try it out for yourself!
As always, please share your thoughts, stories and questions below. Your interaction creates a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.