I was thinking the other day about what skills are important for bringing about positive change in the world. The one I know much about is listening. My background is psychology and I have spent many hours listening to people, their struggles, and their hopes. I have learned so much about human nature from my work and share these lessons through this blog. One thing I know for sure; people are hungry to be listened to by someone who cares. This is clear because I sit with people and they start talking and there is such a release that happens.
What kind of listening am I talking about? I am talking about listening that is compassionate and caring, free of judgment, interested, understanding, supportive and encouraging. This kind of heart centered listening is a skill that takes practice. It takes really being present for the person and dropping your own agenda. You are there to listening, free of any other distractions. Carl Rogers, the most influential counseling psychologist of all time, wrote about having unconditional positive regard for those you listen to, about being there for your client with all your attention and caring. This kind of listening is transformative. When a person is truly listened to, they feel validated and often times very relieved.
Now why is this so important in our lives? Well there are a lot of people out there who would feel so much better if others listened to them. This is especially true for those you and I care about. Our children, our spouses, our friends all would love to be listened to by us in a caring and supportive way. Listening is a key component in loving others. Listening shows you care. As I said this isn’t listening that is passive and distracted; it is listening that is active, present and with heart. Everyone needs this.
In the world this is necessary too. If we learned to listen to the needs and concerns of others, we could eliminate many, if not most of the problems in the world. Listening sounds much better then judging or making others bad because they are different. How many terrorist would there be if they had been listened to when they were children and young people? I suspect none. How many battles between nations would there be if they had come together to listen to each other? I suspect none. Sure there are very damaged people out there; I can tell you from experience that listening heals. Listening heals damaged hearts and disturbed minds.
The greatest gift you can give someone is to really listen to their needs, concerns, hurts, dreams and hopes. When you give of yourself to others in this way, you feel good about your giving and you know you are doing something that really matters.
Four listening hints:
1. Set some time aside to listen. Make it a priority to listen to the concerns and needs of those around you.
2. Have an open heart and mind. Empty yourself of what you want and instead hear where they are coming from.
3. Listen twice as much as you talk. Good communications are about dialogue that is more listening then talking.
4. Be present and not distracted. Quiet yourself and be fully present for those you are listening to and they will be touched.
Listening is not only wonderful for those who are heard but also for you the listener. As a listener you feel good about yourself and your open heart fills you with a sense of being a person of value. In listening, you often find your own peace.
Listening is such a simple act. It requires us to be present, and that takes practice, but we don't have to do anything else. We don't have to advise, or coach, or sound wise. We just have to be willing to sit there and listen.
Listening moves us closer, it helps us become more whole, more healthy, more holy. Not listening creates fragmentation, and fragmentation is the root of all suffering.
Listening is a reciprocal process - we become more attentive to others if they have attended to us.
Margaret J. Wheatley