January 19, 2012

How to Listen.

(Photo: Bindaas Madhavi)




“When someone deeply listens to you
it is like holding out a dented cup
you’ve had since childhood
and watching it fill up with
cold, fresh water.
When it balances on top of the brim,
you are understood.
When it overflows and touches your skin,
you are loved.”

~ John Fox




Are you a good listener?

Sometimes there’s a gap between when we think we are listening, and the other person feeling like he’s been heard. If no one’s ever told you you are a good listener, chances are–you’re not. Deeply listening to someone is a gift; people notice it. They remember it. They mention it.

When someone isn’t listening, it’s obvious. It’s painful. Not slap in the face painful, but a grating itch. If this itch goes on long enough, eventually you stop trying. You move away from it, and find someone else to listen to you. Or worse, close up altogether and stop sharing. Distractions are everywhere–internally and externally. If you want to give someone the gift of being deeply listened to it requires some effort. As simple as it seems, we all struggle with it.

What to do:

1. Be quiet. Ever notice that most of the important stuff you need to do in relationships starts with this? Nodding is good. Eye contact is good. A hand on the person’s arm or shoulder–definitely helpful. But be quiet–your mouth and your mind.

2. Relax. That little lift in your shoulders as your mind starts firing and you begin preparing your response? It shows. Even if he doesn’t consciously recognize it, it’s there. Don’t worry about your part. Just give for a few minutes. Listen with your whole body. If you are in person, face the person. If you are on the phone, be still.

3. Ask questions. When it’s time to respond, it isn’t time to fix the person. It isn’t time to drop some knowledge on them. It isn’t time to shift over to your story and explain how what they said relates to you. It’s time to re-frame what they’ve said and see if you understood. Ask questions. Get clarity. This will be helpful for both you and the person you are listening to. Instead of shifting the discussion to your experiences, you are mirroring what they’ve told you. This will help her clarify things while still allowing her to feel supported and heard.

4. Be patient. Take a breath. Stop waiting for your turn. Be completely present. Act as if listening to what she has to say is the most important thing in the world, at least for that moment. To the person you’re listening to–it is.

5. Put it in the vault. When someone opens his heart and shares with you–a little or a lot–it is a huge gift. It isn’t for you to share. It isn’t leverage. Recognize that it is a huge gift and do him the courtesy of keeping it to yourself. It will make it easier for him to return the favor when you need him to listen to you.

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