For more years than I can remember I have found myself deeply listening to people through my connecting. Listening as they shared their story, their challenges, their frustrations, and their joys. Through that listening, I felt the connection move from head to head to heart to heart. I have sat with them, through moments of complete despair, when their world seems to have been turned upside down, when they felt they hated everyone close to them, and that maybe they should chuck it all in and run away. I have felt their hurt, their pain, their sadness, and their heartache as empathically as I can. These are their difficult times, their turning points, their ‘aha’ moments when they recognise that this isn’t about being rescued, that this was their time to take responsibility and to create their own life from now on.
We are living in the most challenging, scary and exciting of times. We have created technology that enables us to connect to pretty much anyone on the planet, yet most people feel more disconnected than ever. The pace of life is such that we are constantly running after external, material possessions, rather than stopping and spending time with loved ones or doing things that matter and make a difference. We hide behind our screens all the time, constantly checking the next status update or message from a ‘friend’ and replying with something interesting from our life, but carefully constructed and edited to show us in our best light. We yearn for more connection, yet shun the chance to truly connect. As each generation moves through, we lose a little bit more of that connection. With all these distractions we numb ourselves further…….
Our fatigue is often caused not by work, but by worry, frustration, and resentment.
– Dale Carnegie
Sadly, we have stopped learning how to truly connect, how to really listen, how to recognise what matters. Through our continual numbing, we can avoid opening up, being vulnerable, showing our true selves, which would be OK, well sort of, if it were not for the fact we have a much deeper, more real yearning to connect and to be heard.
Active listening is the opportunity. Someone who creates a safe space, with whom they can just be themselves, to allow whatever chooses to arise to be spoken, and for it to be received openly, without judgement and without opinion. They may choose to sit in silence, a chance to stop, draw breath and recharge. It may be an opportunity to share some of their feelings about something, a person, an event, or space to just to let off steam, to release the pressure, to let their feelings and emotions out. Alternatively, they may wish to explore their new ideas, their thoughts, and their ambitions. This is not about trying to fix them, as most people do not need fixing anyway, rather an opportunity for them to simply speak their own words and share their feelings, and to know without question, that they have been heard and felt.
The experience of being truly heard is unusual, as for many it will be the first time this has happened. Afterwards, it can be liberating, inspiring, energising and maybe even life-changing.
What is at the heart of active listening?
Firstly, find a quiet space, removing as many distractions as possible, face the other person and make eye contact, thus creating an attentive atmosphere.
Listening involves putting aside our own needs, desires and competing thoughts, and completely taking in what the other is saying, whilst being in a non-judgemental position and not having an opinion. Be present to the feelings that run alongside what is being said. How are they feeling whilst they are telling their story?
Next and perhaps most importantly is reflecting. You may think it odd to repeat or summarise what you have just heard them say, but the satisfaction, comfort, and connection that someone experiences when his or her words have been absorbed and deeply understood is staggering. This involves simply reflecting back to the other person what you have heard them say, and making sure that you have it right.
Throughout the conversation speak calmly and slowly, and whilst continuing to make eye contact, nodding, acknowledging will be most beneficial to the speaker, it shows them you are paying attention. There will be times when they stop talking, and at these times resist the temptation to jump in, so just be silent. Most of us are so used to people jumping in, so when you don’t they will feel they have permission to continue, and then they will probably take the conversation much deeper.
Finally, if you want to bring more depth to the listening experience, ask questions that help you understand better what the other person is saying. Not necessarily questions related to what you want to know, but rather to help the other person tell his or her story.
Who could you listen to today, and will you?