Listening is a totally misunderstood skill that – when done properly – creates intimacy, a sense of being understood, and a sense of understanding. Listening is not to get enough info so you can reply. Often the act of deep listening is simply to take in the other person’s input, and fully accept it. When someone tells us something personal, or shares a part of their life with us – it is a gift! If we treasure it and honour it, they will feel accepted and loved and understood. When we try to fix it or input ‘advice’ or judgment, they feel diminished, unheard, and ‘wrong’.
We often try to fix people, especially loved ones. We do it from a good place in our hearts – we feel that we can or need to help them, and we misinterpret their sharing as a request for help. Often I have to remind loved ones that if I need help, I’ll qualify my sharing with ‘what do you think I should do?’ or “can I have some advice on this?’ – if I am not explicitly asking for help, why do you assume I want it?
I am very guilty of doing this to my teenagers, it’s like a compulsive ‘mummy’ program – they share, I advise, they push back, I get upset they are not taking my ‘adult’ advice, they clam up, I ask them why they are not talking to me anymore (lol! True story!). I have ‘holistic’ practitioners do this to me all the time, I try to get friendly and share something personal; they give me advice. It’s always funny when that happens, but it also shows me they are not deeply listening to me. Of course sometimes the advice is helpful, but mostly it’s just annoying 😉
Deep listening is a great skill. People will truly love you for it, and your relationships will transform. The art is in totally dropping your own feedback loop in your head – the part of your mind that is analyzing, judging, preparing the response. Drop it. Simply listen to what the person is saying, with your ears, your mind, your heart, your body – just listen. It’s extraordinary when you do this. You can feel them intimately, what they are really trying to communicate, what they are feeling, their emotions, their wisdom, their humanness. It’s so wonderful, and we miss it all when we are busy in our heads trying to figure stuff out. Deep listening means making it about them, not about you.
When I do this, I realize that people really don’t need my advice or my help. Often they are in some discomfort or frustration when they talk to me, and actually all I really see is a slight confusion, a slight bump in the path – it can be quite challenging what they are going through, but when I listen deeply I am in no doubt that they have all the capacity, the resources, and the wisdom to get through it. It’s only when I am not listening, when I am just hearing a torrent of words and pain that I feel I need to jump in and rescue someone – and if I’m deeply honest, it’s just me needing them to be OK so I can be OK. It only happens to me when I get caught in my own anxiety – oh no! If my kids are suffering I must not be mothering properly! If my kids are hurting I need to wage war on the bullies so that they no longer hurt (and then I no longer hurt). But is that really helpful? For sure my teenagers hate it when I do that 🙂 And I have to accept they have the same wisdom, the same capacity, the same inner resources that I have. Just because they are younger, doesn’t make them less connected with that – in fact I often find the opposite is true. Instead of making sure our loved ones are not feeling pain so we don’t have to feel pain, why not go direct to source and work on your own pain!
In my work with my clients and students I am often asked how I know ‘exactly’ what to say. Some people get freaked out that I am ‘in their heads’…well, that’s because I am, haha. Not in a creepy way, hopefully, but that is what deep listening is. When you listen with your entire being, untethered by your own mind noise and self-consciousness, you come into a space of deep intimacy and connection. It’s not that I know what to say, in fact the opposite is true – I’m not thinking in my head, I’m responding from a very open and non-judgmental space – and to me when I am able to do this, its so obvious what needs to be said. There is no magic or personal wisdom in this, it’s simply a matter of shutting up! And by that I mean shutting up my own judging, analyzing, and infinitely egotistical mind.
Becoming more aware of our tendency to prepare responses, feel the need to fix someone, feel the need to solve whatever the other is talking about is a very powerful step towards better intimacy and better relationships. Just stop doing all that and feel the relief! You are not required to do anything but listen. You are not required to come up with solutions; you are not required to know any answers. You can stop thinking, and just be present to this wonderful human standing in front of you. That is all they want from you, your love and acceptance. Isn’t that the truth for you too?