Tricky thing – speech. On one hand it provides us with the unique and precious opportunity of our species to share complex information with each other. On the other hand it can incite misunderstanding and separation between us in a nano second. How do we walk with this double edged sword?
One starting place is the flip side of speaking: listening. Deeply listening with our focus on what is alive in the speaker can be one of the greatest gifts we can give someone.
“When we are listened to, it creates us, makes us unfold and expand.” Karl Menninger
To really listen we have to momentarily suspend our need to be heard, our urge to respond and move the conversation along in the direction we desire. Instead we have to slow down, be present and be open to receiving the thoughts and feelings of another person.
“To listen is to lean in, softly, with a willingness to be changed by what we hear.” Mark Nepo
As a personal life coach I have been shaped and changed by the stories of my brilliant clients. Part of the success of life coaching is that someone with no agenda other than ours is deeply listening to us and prompting us to our own inspiration and power.
What does it take for us to really listen to someone else? For me to be open and willing to be changed by what I hear I have to stop and focus. I have to completely forget my agenda, my time schedule and my to-do list. Multi-tasking is a no-no (you know what it’s like to be on the phone with someone that is reading their email or texting – no deep listening is happening there). It might be the best evidence of respect for someone when I set aside my opinions and desires long enough to hear theirs. My whole being needs to be like an open hand rather than one closed to hold on to myself alone.
This can be monumentally challenging when I have strong opinions and know I’m right! Ask my husband or my son or those with opposing political views and they’ll tell you. I imagine if we really could listen to our political opponents and have them deeply listen to us, both of us with the willingness to be changed by what we hear, the problems we face together would be minor in comparison.
It definitely requires our superhero powers to keep our mouths shut and our ears open!
Of course I can’t be willing to be open and changed if you aren’t because then it would be a win/lose proposition with me the loser, right? Maybe. Maybe not.
There’s nothing to lose by listening with our hearts. Even if we can’t hear the words enough to be changed by them, we can hear the feelings behind the words. And we can acknowledge the feelings. I can get that you are excited, angry, sad, exuberant, frustrated, or scared. I know what it’s like to feel these feelings. When I can’t hear the words I can hear and be moved by your feelings – if I so choose. Marshall Rosenberg says we have to meet at the level of feelings before we can really hear or be heard, especially if we are experiencing deep feelings.
So what if we leaned in, softly, and really listened to someone we usually only half-way hear? What if we gave our beloveds the gift of our full attention, listening with our ears and our hearts and our open selves? What might be possible in our relationships when we really hear each other? I’m thinking this gift-giving, open-hearted, sappy holiday season could be a good time to find out.