Monday, June 1, 2009

The Art Of Listening

I often heard a familiar statement while growing up. "God gave you two ears and one mouth, make sure you use it appropriately. Of course, this statement had many uses and sometimes ulterior motives behind it. Regardless, the statement is very useful to our society and most of the times, it is ignored.

Listening is something that we barely practice any more in our culture. While you may think that sounds dramatic and a little harsh, take a moment and ponder the following scenarios.

  • You're chatting with a coworker and thinking about all the many projects you have to complete that day. While your coworker may be interesting to listen to and talking about subjects you are interested in, your mind is anywhere but on the conversation at hand. Are you truly listening to what your coworker says?

  • One day you meet someone you know on the street that you haven't seen for some time and both of you are happy for the surprise encounter. However, you are busy and late for an appointment. So instead of just exchanging contact information and being honest with your friend that you have no time, you anxiously stand there, checking the time and hoping your friend will just be quiet. After all, you wouldn't want to show a lack of respect to your friendship. The entire time that your friend is talking, are you really listening to them?

  • You have a meeting with a client and since you prepared for the meeting, you have the best interest of your client in mind as you want to share the best course of action for their life or business. They come in and are ready to tell you that something truly remarkable has happened in their life and brought them to a realization. As they begin to share this, you interrupt them to announce your wonderful findings that will truly change their life. All the while of doing this, you are busy talking to them but are you listening?

  • Your significant other has just gotten home from a full day at their place of employment and while they are trying to share something important that happened to you, you attempt to patiently wait for them finish. The moment they stop talking or pause for a moment, you rush in to tell them about your day or some event. Are you truly listening?

  • While driving on the road through town after picking up your child from school, they are spending that quality time talking with you. In those moments, a coworker or your boss calls you and you pick up the phone chatting to the person on the phone as your child continues to talk. Are you really listening to either person?

  • Maybe your partner or spouse is telling you about some scenario that is important to them but you've heard the same basic story a million times it seems. So while this may be very critical to understanding something in their life, you are bored and so you try to politely oblige them but hoping that they hurry up and finish this darn story. Are you truly listening?

  • Someone you know quite well and spend a lot of time with is telling you something that is impacting their life. You feel that you've heard this scenario a million times by them or someone else and so immediately the conclusion is known to you. With or without letting them finish their thought, you are giving your conclusion because you feel it is more about what they need to hear rather than what they need to say. Are you truly listening?

Once again, I'll state very clearly. God gave us two ears and one mouth. We should use them in an appropriate proportion. And yet, we often are guilty of using two mouths and one ear when communicating with others. Some of the examples I just give you could fit 90% or more of the population at any given time on any give day.

Some days, someone that is close to us just needs us to listen. They really don't need any advice or what we think is the best course of action for them. They don't need us to give our judgment from all our years of experience. They don't need for us to tell them what is right or wrong about what we are saying. All they need is for us to listen, without preoccupation, judgment, conclusions or our minds drifting to a million other places. They just need us to be there in the moment, with them and them alone, thinking of nothing else. Often the best help we can give someone is just to be there for them, holding the space and listening with compassion.

More often than not, people around us know what needs to be done. Sometimes it is very hard for them to have the confidence to accept it and take action. Sometimes these people are processing so many things in their mind as they drone on to you about some scenario in their life. To you, it may seem unconnected or a waste of your time, but to the person talking, it is more valuable than all the gold in the world. There may be many unconscious neural connections taking place as they talk.

When we listen to others, we truly are communicating with them and giving of ourselves in one of the most pure human forms. We are saying to that person whether it is our spouse, partner, child, client or prospect, that you are important to me and what you are saying is important. You are giving the other person the respect that your relationship needs. Just imagine how that feels to them or yourself if you are in their shoes?

It has often been said that one of the best qualities of a therapist or counselor is how well they listen to people. Listening makes all the difference in their clients feeling valuable,cared for and safe. I know in my own life, that true listening by therapists or people I know has helped me beyond anything I could describe in words. Some of those individuals most likely didn't know just how much they were helping me in the moment and yet those listening moments changed my life in dramatic ways.

I urge you to take a moment and just consider how much you listen to others around you. Are you busy talking on the phone or texting someone when someone significant is trying to talk to you? Are you going through the motions and appearing as if you listen but you truly are not? Is your mind drifting off to a million places or thinking about all the tasks you need to accomplish instead of listening to the person talking? Is your mind thinking up the next thing you will say so that the person will see you as significant and intelligent, when all they want is someone to listen?

Don't take my word for it on how poorly we listen in this world. Look around yourself and you'll see several examples of this. From the news pundits and politicians, to the companies advertising their products or to the boss and employee relationship. You most likely will also see examples of it in doctor/patient relationships, the spouse/partner relationship and family situations. It is everywhere around us and if we observe it, we will see it.

Take it one step further though when you have observed all that is going on around you and see just how you mimic or do some of the same things that you observe. For the more you know about what you do, the more empowered you are to change your life. Wouldn't it be a beautiful world if everyone truly listened as much as they talked?

May we all continue to remember that we have two ears and one mouth.

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