Shhhh. Listen. Do you hear the pain they haven’t mentioned? Do you hear the joy within their hearts? Do you hear what they aren’t saying?
When we think about communication, we usually think about words, about talking. What are we going to say, how should we say it, what are the perfect words to use? We don’t always put that much thought into listening, which is an equally important aspect of effective communication.
Most people listen to speak. As the other person is talking, the “listener” is composing what they want to say about the subject being discussed. Sometimes they wait until the speaker takes a break; more often, they interrupt because they just can’t wait to share! There is a belief that this behavior connects them to the speaker, which couldn’t be further from the truth.
For example, a friend tells you that she’s heartbroken over her pet dying. She’s emotional and tears are welling up in her eyes. You want to soothe and connect and so you interrupt and say, “I’m so sorry. There’s nothing worse than losing a pet. I lost my precious Chew-Chew 2 years ago and I was a wreck. Blahblahblahblahblah about Chew-Chew.” Well, I hope you felt better because you left your friend with her grief, unable to articulate all she was feeling before you took over.
Imagine the magic that might have happened if you had saved your story until she was finished, completely finished. Imagine sharing silence with her and simply holding space for her grief. Imagine creating a safety bubble where she could trust you empathized with her because of your energy, not your competing story. Imagine if someone did that for you when you needed it instead of cutting in to seemingly one-up you. Shhhh. Listen.
Respond True or False to these statements. Hint: The ideal answer is False!
I interrupt often or try to finish the other person’s sentences.
I jump to conclusions before hearing everything the person has to say.
I am often overly parental and answer with advice, even when not requested.
I try to change the subject to something that relates to my own experience.
I think more about my reply while the other person is speaking than to what is being said.
I am a compulsive notetaker.
Okay, I hear you notetakers! You’re wondering why that is listed as a negative habit, right? You can’t fully take in what someone is saying while you’re writing what they already said! Try being 100% present and listening with an open mind and an open heart—no notes will be necessary. If you must write something down, like something you’re promising to follow up with later, ask the speaker to hold on one second while you write it down so you can listen intently when they continue.
Shhhh. Listen. When you learn to truly listen, you’ll hear your inner voice remind you to listen to the other person’s inner voice and the connection you make will be deeper than you could imagine. The wisdom of the universe is waiting for you to listen.
President, The Zen Speaker