Confession of a professional listener
In my profession, I listen to people. I've been told I listen well, and most of the time, I do.
Sometimes, when I think I have accurately interpreted what someone means, I'm embarrassed and humbled to discover I had it all wrong.
How do you listen? I'm sure you've engaged in a conversation with someone who does not agree with you.
As he talks, you plan a counter argument in your head, waiting until he stops speaking so you can deliver it. You have stopped listening.
If you tune someone out because of how he behaves or dresses, you have stopped listening.
If you label a person 'boring' and allow your mind to wander, you have stopped listening.
True listeners cultivate genuine curiosity about people with whom they speak. They drop their notions of what a person is like so they can find out what she is really like. They let go of what they think someone will say to find out what he really has to say. Real listeners often discover interesting facts about others that lead to captivating conversations.
True listening happens when you seek to understand before being understood. My husband, Steve, and I have engaged in many conversations in which we each insisted that the other person understand us.
We would sometimes leave these dialogues feeling incomplete, experiencing in their wake misery, hard feelings, and an unfulfilled longing to be heard.
When you reach an impasse like that, have the wisdom to take space from each other. Use the space to become willing to drop your end of the rope.
When you take up the conversation again, listen to your partner until you feel clear where he is coming from. Afterward, you will usually find him more willing to listen to you.
In true listening, instead of believing what the mind has to say about someone, you quiet its chatter.
You hold yourself still in order to hear the other person's truth. From the silence, you hold her capable and worthy of respect, creating energy between you that allows her - and yourself - to show up fully.
Many true listeners have developed the art of listening with more than just their ears. They learn to involve their whole body.
You can hone your sensitivity to the energy in your body, and allow that energy to take in what others have to say. Listening in this way may tune you into others' emotions, supporting them to feel heard completely.
Be patient with yourself and others as you practice the art of true listening. After all, you have probably spent decades observing poor listening models.
Like me, you won't always get it perfect. Allow time and treat yourself with kindness as you develop new patterns.
Dr. Marta teaches and coaches in Arizona's Verde Valley. To contact her, call 928-451-9482 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.