Imagine you are in a room full of people trying to have a conversation with someone. Thirty seconds into the conversation you realize the person is not really listening to what you are saying. Instead, they are actually starting to look over your shoulder to see if there are others they might want to connect with in the room. You keep trying to connect, hoping to engage in an exchange of thoughts or experiences, but the other person soon finds the next person they want to talk with and offers you a superficial, “It was good to talk with you,” and moves on.
If you are like me, you have had the experience of this kind of “pseudo conversation” more times then you care to remember. And again, if you are like me, you have also been the person looking around the room and pretending to be listening, more times than you care to admit.
One of the reasons I believe that deep, authentic listening is rare is because it is challenging to actually do. It takes time, discipline, intention, and effort to be fully present to another person when they are speaking to us. We have to truly focus our attention so that we are not distracted by what is going on around us. We have to quiet ourselves internally, so that we are not distracted by our own thoughts and concerns. We have to listen in order to truly understand, instead of simply listening in order to respond. We have to avoid the temptation to steer the conversation back to our lives and our concerns. And we have to offer the other the gift of our time.
Every good conversation starts with good listening. I have written before about how the word conversation and the word conversion share the same etymological root. The reason for this is because to listen deeply and enter into authentic conversation with another person creates the possibility that we may be changed. Perhaps another reason we often avoid truly listening to one another, in addition to the intention, time, and effort it takes, is that there is a certain kind of vulnerability in truly listening. When we truly listen to another person our perspective may be changed, and, we may create a deeper intimacy with the person to whom we are listening. Being that vulnerable can be scary.
Please don’t take my word regarding what I have written here, try it yourself. Over the next day or two I invite us all to make the effort to truly listen to the people with whom we interact. Practice the discipline, and intention it takes to listen deeply to another person. As you listen to them listen to truly understand what they are saying, experiencing, feeling, and thinking, and not simply to respond. Look the person in the eye and listen to the feeling and meaning behind their words. Ask clarifying questions that let the person know you really want to hear more about what they are saying. Be still within yourself and be fully present to what they are saying to you.
Try this several times and see what happens. See if you feel more connected with the people with whom you tried this. Did anything change in your perspective on what you were hearing or how you understand that person?
Feel free to drop me a line and let me know how this experiment went. I love to hear stories of how good listening enriches relationships. And I promise… I will give my full attention to what you send me, and not be looking around at other emails while reading yours!