Good conversation is a must-have in my life. I love the feeling of exploring a new idea or thought, or contemplating existing ones.
There’s this really cool thing that happens when people are on fire in conversation. You can feel the conversation naturally building upon itself. The contributors lean in toward one another. There’s a desire to know, to understand. And an eagerness to explore.
Some of my favorite conversations are ones where we contemplate thoughts and ideas without attachment. These conversations don’t happen all of the time and that’s okay. I don’t typically discriminate when it comes to conversing. I like to get personal, have silly talk and mundane talk—I think they all contribute to the beauty of life and diversity and our varying needs.
All kinds of talk serve all kinds of purposes.
But the kinds of conversations that I dislike are the ones where the other person isn’t really listening.
There are light years of difference between deeply listening and waiting to talk. A lot of people wait to talk and there are various reasons for it. Some people might feel insecure and others might be self conscious; they might feel pressure to be able to contribute to the conversation in a way that truly represents them.
Sometimes it’s pure unconscious narcissism—the idea that what I have to say is inherently more interesting than anything you might have to say. The key word here is unconscious; these people are completely clueless that they don’t know how, or care to listen.
I watched an interview with one of my favorite spiritual teachers, Thich Naht Hanh, a few years ago. He said the most important skill we can develop is deep listening. Deep listening means that I actually care what you have to say and I allow you to say it. I don’t interrupt or wait to say what I want to say. When I’m deeply listening I don’t worry about what I’m going to say next. I’m not evaluating the conversation or person I’m with. I’m simply hearing them, soaking it in and allowing myself to process what it is they have to say. The only way to really do this well is to do it without judgement.
Deep listening is imperative in any relationship, but especially helpful in long term relationships like romantic partnerships and families.
This thing happens when we get into relationship where we begin to think that the person we’re with should and does think the way we do. We can forget they are an individual who operates separately from us. Through deep listening we can hear our partner without thinking that they should think or feel differently than they do. We clear our minds and choose to really hear them—no matter what they are saying.
Here are some keys to deep listening:
Be interested in what the person is saying. Of course this isn’t always possible, but most people we talk with are actually interesting when we remove our judgements. They may not say what you want them to say. They may not be open or engaging. But the reasons people think the way they do is actually very interesting, if you can understand that we are all born into different lives with varying conditions.
Focus on what is being said. Many people have a habit of thinking about themselves when someone else is speaking. They think about their posture, things they need to do, or what they are going to say next. Give the person you’re with the respect of your attention; they are worthy of it. It’s a pretty crappy feeling to be speaking to someone who has a glazed-over look because they’re preoccupied with something else.
Don’t judge. Remember that the person who is speaking is a different human being from you. They have their own thoughts and feelings about being alive in this world and the things that come with it. Allow them that. Hear what they are saying, accept it and respond from your own being without projecting negatively onto them.
Be honest. If you mess up and start daydreaming or you get distracted, tell them. I’ve found that saying, “I’m really sorry, but I totally got distracted. Would you mind repeating that?” shows that you’re human and that you’re actually interested in what they’re saying. If they’re perceptive they know if you weren’t really listening anyway. It’s more respectful to be honest than to pretend you heard because you’re embarrassed. Honesty is refreshing.
Training yourself to deeply listen can be hard work. Our minds form judgements before we’ve even had a chance to process the information.
Have patience with yourself as you learn this skill and be patient with others as well.
Author: Michelle D’Avella
Assistant Editor: Hilda Carroll / Editor: Renee Picard
Photo via author