"Being listened to is so close to being loved that most people don't know the difference." ~David Augsburger
As it turns out, it's impossible to talk about how we tell our stories without talking about the power of listening and truly being heard. This dawned on me this past Monday in my consultation group at the Couples Institute, as we discussed how important it is for couples to feel heard by one another, along with the dilemma that listening to one another involves skills that many of us just do not learn along the way. Misunderstandings, disagreements and conflict happen for many reasons, with one main principle in common--that we are not truly listening. So many things get in the way of listening--distractions, exhaustion, emotional overwhelm. We want so deeply to convey our caring to one another, to share with each other our stories, dreams and fears, yet so often we fail. So what are the essential skills that seem to elude us?
-Begin with a quiet space, bodies facing one another and eye contact--creating an attentive atmosphere. Slow, deep breathing to feel more relaxed might be a good idea to help get into the right frame of mind.
-A caring, non-judgmental attitude is next. Listening involves putting aside our own needs, desires and competing thoughts, and completely taking in what the other is saying.
-Noticing the feelings that accompany what is being said-how is my friend/partner/daughter/sister feeling while he/she is telling her story?
-Next and perhaps most importantly is reflecting. It might seem strange to repeat or summarize what you have heard the other person say, but the satisfaction, comfort and connection that someone experiences when his or her words have been absorbed and deeply understood is staggering. This involves simply reflecting back to the other person what you have heard them say, and checking in with them to make sure that you have it right.
-Finally, if you want to bring more depth to the listening experience, ask questions that help you understand better what the other person is saying. Not necessarily questions related to what you want to know, but rather that help the other person tell his or her story.
We are not used to doing this kind of committed listening, and it will involve setting time aside and possibly at first feeling a bit awkward, but it will almost definitely be worth the effort.