The receiver of the message is really in control of whether or not the conversation will turn out to be fruitful or not. Assuming that we have a desire to listen and we want our partner to feel that they have been heard, what might our behavior look like? Well, let’s start with the basics. Most people would agree that not talking when the other person is speaking is essential. If we can add in timely facial expressions and verbal sounds (“Mmm-hmm”s), this may certainly help make our partner feel that he or she is being heard. And then there is that quintessential sign that we are actively listening–if we are able to remember and repeat what the other person has said, in some form like, “What I’m hearing you say is...”.
These principles may represent some of the science of listening, but not so much the art. What I saw a lot of during my life coaching certification, especially when doing coaching role-play with other students, was the formulaic application of the principles of active listening that sometimes had a hollowness and predictability to it. Of course this is understandable, especially when people are starting off trying to do what they are not accustomed to doing. While these fundamentals are important first steps, we need to understand more the ‘why’ of active listening processes, and then get beyond formulas in order to be felt to be a great listener by others. If you think about someone who you consider a great listener, or think back to a conversation within which you felt you were really heard, what was that listener providing? Were they merely listening, or were they actually helping you get more clear and articulate about what you were thinking and feeling inside? Did they accept everything at face value, or did they subtly challenge you? Did you find yourself actually feeling more relaxed and confident about what you were saying? In this Harvard Business Review study, data from 3,492 participants was distilled into four main points that people felt were characteristics of good listening: Listening only elevates into an art when you are no longer just doing it by rote, based on a set of principles, but when you truly attempt to connect to the other person, and ground your conversations in respect, care, and, let’s say it–love.
The insights from the study made above need to be more than just steps to follow, they need to act as pointers towards the disposition you have to be willing to embrace within yourself to become a great listener. And the easiest way to cultivate this is to actually care what the person is saying! But beyond caring about what they are saying, caring about why they are saying it is even more important. If you can align at a deep level with why a person is communicating with you, and what, at a deeper level, they are trying to get from the conversation, that is when they will really start to feel listened to. For some people this is natural, and is probably why they are pretty good listeners to begin with. But many of us are not quite as intrinsically motivated to care about the other person or what they are saying. Still, if you want to be a good listener and experience connecting with people in a more satisfying way that goes beyond just learning the ‘highly effective habits’ of good listeners, then care is pretty fundamental to the process. If this seems daunting, here are a few entry-points into becoming a great listener for real: Curiosity. When we speak to others our minds can revert to trying to gain control, seeking satisfaction from speaking out under the assumption we know what the other person is trying to say. This is especially true with a spouse or close friend we know well.
The result is often a conversation that is lifeless and boring, if not confrontational. To mitigate this, simply decide that you will make a conscious effort to let go of all your preconceived assumptions and be curious about what the other person is saying. Be willing to gently dig deeply wherever things are unclear until you get a fuller picture. Enjoy the conversation as though there are mysteries to be solved. Openness to learning. If you think you know everything, or enter into a conversation with a rigid perspective that you don’t want to change, you are unlikely to listen in a way that is satisfying to the other person. Try enter into each conversation thinking that there is something for you to learn, and actively seek out to learn something, either about the person, the issue they are having, or life in general. Another human perspective on things is the spice of life, and rather than focusing on the merits of your own perspective, consider trying to expand your worldview by paying close attention to how others see things. A higher purpose. In the bigger picture, humanity will find greater unity as we coalesce our individual perspectives into a beautiful and complex tapestry. We contribute to this whenever we make each other’s point of view feel like it is something of value. In this endeavor, which I call ‘the new conversation,’ our listening is imbued with the a sense of deep reverence for life and our growth, not only as individuals but as a species. In each conversation that we partake in, we have an opportunity in the way we listen to further the evolution of collective consciousness. What greater motivation do we need than that? Devoting yourself to be a great listener for others, in a way that comes from the heart rather than simply the mind, will likely return your efforts tenfold in the magical connection and fulfillment you will feel. An art piece and lunar calendar all in one. This calendar features moon phases for every day of the month for the entirety of 2020. Hologrpahic foil set on a dark 11" x 11" poster makes the moon's phases shimmer as light strikes them in this unique .
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