Listening and hearing are two very different things!
If you ranked yourself on a scale where 10 is "I am fabulous at this" and 0 is "I am not sure how to spell 'this,'" how would you rank yourself at:
True listening happens when you are in your heart, present and genuinely interested in what the other person has to say. Your desire is to understand them.
Sadly, most people might think this way but when they actually listen, they are just listening for the gap in the other person's words so they can jump in and defend themselves, offer their advice or just change the conversation into something that interests or defends them.
Someone once said hearing is a faculty and listening is an art.
How many times have you listened to someone while you are doing something else or thinking about something else? You are either in the past or the future but surely not the present!
When you are really present, your entire attention is focused on them and truly hearing what they are saying with their words -- and their non-verbals. You can sense the feelings behind their words.
It's through the non-verbals that you will often learn the true meaning of what they are saying. This is so important for our children as well. Too often we see a "stomachache" on a school day as just that when really it might be a sign that they are being bullied at school, or that they are struggling to keep up or one of many other possible scenarios. Listening for feelings is critical -- and responding to those feelings is more critical!
A huge component of listening is actually being interested in what the person is saying. Too often we hear one or two words and we make a judgment on "what this is all about" based on our past experiences, perceptions and filters.
We don't actually hear what is really being said because we have made that assumption in nanoseconds -- and the other person at a non-verbal level picks this up and reacts accordingly!
Many fights might be avoided if we paid more attention to being present, being interested, listening for feelings and wanting to understand!
Asking questions is not only a great way to show you are actually hearing what the other person is saying but also that you are genuinely interested! Questions also give you more information that helps you glean the truth about what is really going on and helps you be more discerning.
Asking open-ended questions -- not ones that require a yes or no answer -- elicits more information on which you can base your responses. Note: responses, not reactions!
Listen for the feelings
Stephen Covey said in his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, "listen with your eyes for feelings." People wrap their feelings in words and then speak the words, and it's our job to "unwrap" those feelings!
I recently heard a great quote from Prof. John Duradini: "Life is not about feeling good. It's about being good at feeling."
Most people are not really aware of how they are feeling, and that makes our job of listening more challenging and at the same time rewarding if we can help them understand how they are feeling through our understanding and desire to understand.
Your response to what they say is best if you acknowledge in some way what they might be feeling or reacting to at that moment. So watch them, watch the non-verbals (their voice tones, body language, eye movements, breathing) and be a "feelings detective." Then respond with statements like, "Wow, that must have been difficult for you" or frustrating or exciting or any other feeling word that describes what you think they were feeling!
You might be stunned at how your interactions with others change.
Be in your heart
One of the best strategies I believe to be a great listener is to be "in your heart" as you listen and speak. Most of us are too busy in our heads, judging, interpreting and assuming, and we lose sight of the other person!
If you can consciously "drop" to your heart and rest there while you listen, you will learn so much more and the other person will feel acknowledged, validated and understood.
And you will just know the right things to say!
Your heart has infinite wisdom, knowing and compassion and really is the seat of listening! Listening is about them -- not about you! Ask yourself, "What does this person really want from me," then listen to your heart's reply!
Of course, listening and speaking go together! Just not at the same time! Choosing the right words at the right time is something your heart does brilliantly.
Saying those words in the right spirit transforms even clumsy attempts at understanding. Be aware of your own feelings before you open your mouth. Is what you are about to say coming with a spirit of anger, resentment, frustration, disappointment or one of openness and desire to understand?
Your voice tone is usually the way your true feelings are exposed. I am sure I don't have to elaborate on that -- just think of the last time you sensed something was wrong. You asked, "What's wrong?" and heard the reply "nothing" in a tone that made you know for sure that something was wrong! Never underestimate the power of your voice tone.
Listening to yourself
How well do you listen to yourself? Not only are many of us not very good at feeling, but we beat ourselves up constantly with out inner language. If you truly listen to what you say to yourself, ask yourself if you would ever speak like that to a friend? Maybe not!
Take time to listen to yourself and then treat yourself with some compassion. Your inner dialogue will often give you a clue as to what unconscious fears are ruling your life and feelings.
Be kind to yourself. You don't wake up in the morning and think to yourself, "What can I do today to ruin my life or that of others?" You do things in the best way you know how -- given your knowledge and skills at the moment. Put into practice some of the ideas in this blog and see what changes.
If you are kinder to yourself you can often be kinder to others.
Pretty much everything in life begins with how we feel about ourselves. If we feel good about ourselves, we can focus on serving others and making them feel good, and then everything in life flows better.
So listen up! Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to listen with your heart for feelings -- all day! And then to respond to those feelings.
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