I remember being told as a child that there’s a difference between listening and hearing. When you hear someone speak, you aren’t necessarily listening to them.
Listening is active. Listening is when a person is present in the moment, giving full attention to the other and responding accordingly. Listening is done with your whole being – your instincts, your intuition, your body language, your eyes, your attention and energy. Your ears are simply the tool that make it physically possible.
I tend to find many situations where I don’t really feel listened to. Even through body language, one can see that a person’s eyes are flickering, their replies are not engaged responses, and lips are being pursed. There’s a tendency amongst people to deviate from listening by pulling attention onto themselves. A conversation would go like this:
“I’m so upset by what she said yesterday. She really hurt my feelings. I feel -”
“Me too! Last time she said the same thing to me and it was worse because I was really having a bad day and…”
Suddenly, it becomes a competition of attention with both people feeling unheard and misunderstood. No one is given a chance to really vent out their feelings to a person who is attentively listening to them and responsive in a sensitive and helpful manner.
In a culture where we don’t listen, is it any wonder we have difficulty communicating effectively and assertively without falling into aggression? When we wonder why our children don’t talk to us or our partners don’t communicate well, we should ask ourselves if we’ve created a safe space for them to feel listened to, without judgement or shame. Listening takes energy, presence and a degree of selflessness for that moment of being there for another. Your experiences and your knowledge of life may well come into the conversation as you respond, however you’re still staying present with the person’s feelings and responding to what they’ve shared, without deviating onto your needs.
There are moments where I don’t feel like listening to someone, usually because the exchange is not two-way. Some people may require a lot of attention and energy, and they don’t sustain you back, thus leaving you feeling drained. The best conversations I have are with people who are sensitive enough to allow the attention to shift fairly and calmly between us, leaving both of us feeling that we’ve shared, been understood and felt seen by the other. We leave the conversation feeling closer in our relationship, relieved and with new reflections. There are days when one person needs to speak more than the other, and we accept this because overall, our relationship of sharing is relatively equal.
Listening actively is a skill, and one which we can aim to practise and cultivate in ourselves and our relationships. Perhaps, we may not have seen it modelled through our biggest influential domain – our family. Perhaps, communication styles were less than ideal, but it doesn’t have to define us as we move forward and form our own relationships.
We may complain that others don’t listen to us as much as we listen to them. Be careful not to fall into the helper/victim’s role here. We have control over ourselves and our actions and no one else’s. If a relationship doesn’t serve you, it’s up to you to respond and decide what you’d like to do about it. You have the power of choice.
My request to you today is to observe a conversation between you and another. Did you take time to listen? Did you feel heard? How did the conversation leave you feeling afterwards? By being more aware of these exchanges, we could fulfil quality relationships, work towards being heard and understood, and solve issues or gain a better sense of self-awareness.