THE ART OF LISTENING
Learn to be a better listener and to help others hear you better, by improving how you listen to your environment, to yourself, and to others.
“Listening is not merely not talking, though even that is beyond most of our powers; it means taking a vigorous interest in what is being told us.” – Alice Duer Miller
A couple of weeks ago I caught myself practicing the worst act of listening ever!
A friend shared something with me that got me concerned with an issue that could affect them, personally.
I brought it up right away during our conversation, more than once, actually. I may have even cut them off to voice my concern. tsk-tsk-tsk!
Then a few days later, we talked about it again during our walk. My concern and the “worry story” I created were very much present in my mind during our entire conversation, again. I wasn’t listening to them. I was having a conversation with my own thoughts and formulating my answers in my head.
Thankfully, my awareness training allowed me to catch myself in the act and correct my behavior, mostly right away.
When I noticed the “conversation in my head” and how I was not listening to my friend, I was able to stop. I asked about their thoughts and feelings. They talked, and I finally listened. Truly listened.
In that same week, during a somewhat frustrating conversation with my son, he said: “Mom, you are not listening to me.” No, I wasn’t. I was too busy listening to my own thougths, formulating assumptions and answers to his arguments.
Last week I attended three meetings. Before each meeting, I asserted my intention to stay out of my head and in the conversation happening in front of me. I was very intentional with my attention.
The funny thing? I noticed people talking over each other, listening to their thoughts instead of what others were saying, not present in the conversation, speaking without listening, voicing their concerns before asking clarifying questions.
In conversations like these, even though we are supportive of each other and may even want the same results because we can’t wait until the other finishes their sentence, the ideas aren’t finished either. It can be very unproductive.
Then, I thought of this past, tumultuous year and how people have lost their patience to listen, respectfully, to others’ points of view and differences. This past year was hard, it hurt us in so many ways I don’t think we understand the impact of it all yet. But one thing I noticed, our listening skills have taken a big hit. Listening respectfully is something we, as people, are not doing well, if any at all.
And that’s how this post came about. You know I’m always writing about things I experience personally. And because I did not like the way I was not listening, I decided that I needed a little reminder and a lot of practice in the Art of Listening.
THE BENEFITS OF LISTENING WELL
Listening is something we all do, and something we can do more of and better. The Greek philosopher, Epictetus said it well: “We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.”
Listening brings us insight, clarity, healing, joy, perception, and connection.
When we listen, we have authentic conversations and truly understand each other. When we listen, there’s more candor, openness, honesty, and sincerity in the conversation.
When we feel heard, we feel comfortable, loved, and cared for. It strengthens our relationships and intimacy. It builds trust. It brings us closer.
When we work to consciously listen, our listening skills deepen.
HOW TO IMPROVE OUR LISTENING SKILLS
Listening is a habit that one must practice continuously, in order to be good at. The good news is that we have several opportunities, daily, to practice this craft as there’s so much to listen to in our environment, in our minds, and from others.
If we can improve how we listen to the noises from our environment, and if we can improve how we listen to the conversations in our minds, we will surely improve how we listen to others.
And that’s what I’m proposing to do.
LISTENING TO OUR ENVIRONMENT
We intentionally tune into the sounds around us that we might habitually ‘tune out’: birds, wind on trees, dogs barking, kids screaming, people talking, cars passing by, the kitchen clock, the humming of the computer or the refrigerator, the dogs’ tags, someone walking around the house, our own heartbeat.
These sounds happen, constantly, without our doing. These sounds are the sounds of life happening around us. When we tune into them, we become alive with them. We become active participants in life. Life doesn’t just happen to us, we happen to life.
My intention is to be more attentive to the sounds around me, wherever I am, at any time.
Try this: once or twice a day, during a break, close your eyes (if you like) and tune into the sounds around you. What do you hear? Are they near or far? What thoughts do they create for you? What feelings do they bring you? What physical sensations do they drive?
LISTENING TO OURSELVES
We intentionally tune into our inner thoughts and feelings, wants and needs. Tuning into our voice, the voice of experience and fear, the voice of our ancestors and our children. That voice that tells us “just do it” or “don’t do it”.
With attention and intention, we listen to our thoughts, question them, challenge them. We ask our feelings what they mean, what messages they are trying to tell us. We question our wants and needs and adjust them.
When we truly listen, we can hear that higher, calmer, clearer voice that knows: our intuition, which shows up sometimes as a hunch, a strong thought, a nudge (or punch) in the stomach. With practice, we learn to trust our inner voice.
Meditation is a great way to calm the chatter in my mind and to listen to the inner, wiser voice. The more I practice meditation, the better I listen and trust myself and my intuition.
Suggestion: sit in quiet for 5 or 10 minutes, take few deep breaths bringing your awareness to the breath. After a few minutes, ask yourself one question and listen. Just listen. We have the answers to our questions, we always do.
LISTENING TO OTHERS
We intentionally tune into what people are actually saying, taking in their words and their intentions, registering their emotions, and their non-verbal language. We ask questions so that we can learn more and understand better.
Listening to others require inner listening as well as outer listening: we become more aware of our habit of interrupting others and of pattern of thinking our responses while others are still talking.
Try this: next time you are talking to a friend, ask more questions to engage in the conversation: why, what, who, when, where, how. Ask follow-up questions, get the specifics. And every time a thought pops us, go back to listening and asking engaging questions.
I know I’ve been doing a very good job listening to my inner voice because of my meditations. I’m doing OK listening to my environment during my hikes and neighborhood walks. I need to do a better job listening to others.
So, I decided to work on my listening skills for the month of June. 30 days to practice better listening.
Each week I will be deepening my listening practice of my environment, myself, and others. And on the fourth week, I’ll bring it all together with a deeper practice. I’m doing this for myself, my children, my friends, my clients, and for everyone that crosses my path.
Then I thought: why not share with you all? Why not do it together?
If you believe you could benefit from this practice, I invite you to join me. I’d love some company and you’ve got nothing to lose.
What does this look like? Well, every day I’ll remind myself to listen more and better with a prompt, a mantra, an intention, an inspiration, a strategy, or a tip to help me stay present and listen better. Short and effective.
When you join the challenge, you will receive a daily email with a reminder. A quick line, just a reminder to listen more and better to either your environment, yourself, or others.
At the end of this challenge, after about 4 weeks, we will have learned more about our own listening habits and have learned ways to improve them. You will leave with a list of 30 strategies, tips, and reminders you can go back to time and time again.
Like I said before, you’ve got nothing to lose.
So, are you with me?
JOIN ME IN THIS CHALLENGE. Here is to better listening!
As always, focusing on what matters most, let’s improve our communication and transform our interactions one conversation at a time.
With love and gratitude,
P.S.: Oh, and feel free to share this email with anyone you think could benefit from it. It’s FREE!
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