As a therapist, you can imagine the importance of being a good listener. Listening is a must-master skill for this profession, and it is not one that we humans are born with, but rather, it is learned. Most people would agree that listening is a vital skill during conflict in particular, but it is just as vital when we are looking for that thing we must all have as well…connection. So what is the key to being a great listener?
Let’s start with something very basic, but a characteristic that we often forget. If you want to show someone you are listening well, look at them…in the eyes. There are things that your “lizard brain” can pick up that you cannot imagine. Good body language and showing the other person they have your attention are the first steps.
Next, you must want to listen. What happens when you don’t? It is noticeable. There are even studies that show that the person talking to you can tell if your mind is wandering, even if you have good eye contact and body language. Beyond how you look, what you are thinking is also important.
This next one takes listening a step further. Listen to understand, not to respond. What are you thinking about when someone is talking to you? Think about this in particular as it pertains to conflict. Most people in conflict are listening to offer a counter-arguement to whatever their partner is saying, not listening to understand their point of view. This is huge, and it takes a lot of practice. It also takes a lot of work on yourself and your own issues, as this becomes almost impossible when we get defensive and strive to protect our wounded hearts.
I’m reminded of this quote by the Buddha, “In a controversy, the instant we feel anger, we have already ceased striving for the truth, and have begun striving for ourselves.” Anger closes our ears. Defensiveness severs connection. I explain to folks that are mired in the power struggle that they must learn to listen, and even defend, their partner’s view that the sky is orange, even if they know the sky is purple! In conflict, you are both right, and you are both wrong. The point in listening is not to conceive an argument to convince the other person they are wrong, but to understand their reality as a valid one…just as valid as yours. Close your mouth, open your ears, suspend all judgment, and strive to understand the other.
There is a myth that people believe, and it is that in order to connect and be happy and show each other how much we love each other that we must agree. Pardon the vernacular, but that, my dear friends, is horse crap. There is a wonderful richness that comes from understanding and learning about others’ ideas that are different from our own. We don’t need to be agreed with nearly as much as we need to be understood. If you can understand even that with which you don’t agree, you are on the road to becoming a great listener.
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Healing Hearts provides counseling services to the surrounding communities of Indianapolis, Fishers, Carmel, Zionsville, Westfield, Noblesville, and Geist. E-Counseling is available for residents of Indiana. Call or text today to set up your appointment. 317-218-3038
© 2015 Nancy Eisenman, MSW, LSW