Deep Listening Lesson 1: Stop talking so much!

This is the simplest and fastest change you can make to become a more skilled listener. In conversations with others, we can directly observe who’s doing most of the talking. If it’s someone else that’s a good start.

However, if we are talking a majority of the time, there are practices we can do to shift the balance toward listening more. The first thing is to notice ourselves talking and not listening. With this awareness, a number of options become possible. First of all, we now have the choice to decide to stop talking. There are many ways to accomplish this. We can ask questions such as: “What are your views?” “What’s on your mind?” “I’m interested in your thoughts on the matter. Please say more.”

There are additional methods for passing conversations over to others. Smiling or nodding encourages others to talk. You can make a direct invitation for others to speak by saying something like, “I have been doing most of the talking; I’ll stop now and listen.” The possibilities for gracefully shifting from speaking to listening are limitless. Make up any that you feel comfortable with and practice using them.

Becoming a skilful listener starts first with the intention to talk less and listen more. Learning to stop talking so much and to listen is a powerful step in loving ourselves and other people. In a world full of talkers, a skilful listener shines like the Hope Diamond.

Remember that we have two ears and only one mouth. So we are meant to listen twice as much as we talk!

Practice for the next few days:
Identify someone with whom you often do most of the talking. Now get really interested in them. Try to swing the balance toward them talking more.

Deep Listening Lesson 2: Don't interrupt unnecessarily!

Many times as we’re listening to another person, the things they say will emotionally activate us in some way. Their words may trigger excitement, sadness, fear or some other strong feelings in us. Such feelings can generate an uncontrollable impulse to speak, to override what the other person is saying in order to relieve our own internal pressure. This is an impulse that’s important to limit on the road to becoming a more skilful listener.

When we cut people off in mid-sentence or interrupt by finishing their thoughts out loud for them, we’re being disrespectful, and we could be harming our health! Dr. Paul Pearsall, the author of The Last Self-Help Book You’ll Ever Need wrote: ‘Stop expressing, representing, and asserting yourself. Shut up and listen. Research shows that people who interrupt are three times more likely to die of a heart attack than those who don’t, and that (relationships) usually fail because of too much communication, not too little.’

When we interrupt, the message we send to the speaker is: ‘What I have to say is more important that what you have to say. It’s so important that I can’t contain myself enough to let you finish.’ By learning to hold our tongue in daily interactions with people, and becoming genuinely curious about what others are saying, we greatly improve our listening skills and possibly our health.

I've seen that not only do masterful listeners not interrupt, they are in no hurry to speak even after the other has finished speaking! This gives people time to reflect and sometimes they find they have more to say. They feel that the other is really listening and their words now come from a deeper part of themselves. This spaciousness in conversation shows respect and interest in the other's story and is a great gift we can give each other.

Practice for the next few days:
Pay attention to how frequently you and other people interrupt one another in everyday communication. Take steps to reduce your own pattern of interrupting others. Try counting to ten in your mind after the person has finished speaking before adding your own comments. You might be surprised at how restraining the impulse to interrupt and speak helps deepen the connection.

Deep Listening Lesson 3: Create an atmosphere of trust

Communication that meaningfully connects people can only occur when trust exists. A good listener works consciously to build trust. This means acting in ways that puts others at ease instead of on guard. A good listener displays a genuine concern for the comfort and well-being of others. This significantly reduces the various psychological defences that people habitually erect.

What is the most effective way to establish trust? It is to be genuinely trustworthy! Trustworthy people rarely betray trust. When your central concern is for the safety and well-being of yourself and others, often there’s nothing special that needs to be done. Many people intuitively sense this authentic orientation.

Although we all like to think we are trustworthy, sometimes old patterns shaped by early life events can cause us to allow unconscious needs to prevent us from fully concerning ourselves with the care and wellbeing of others. This can also keep us from loving and accepting ourselves as well.

If genuine trust is to be established, we must first learn to have compassion for ourselves, and to trust ourselves. Then creating an atmosphere of trust even in situations where people are skeptical of our intentions will be second nature to us. The warmth from our heart will melt all the wax walls that separate us!

Practices for the next few days:
1) Reflection: Who are the people you feel safe enough to tell your deepest truths to? List the qualities they have that contribute to creating that feeling of trust and safety. From this list of qualities choose one thing you can begin to do to move in the direction of being someone others deeply trust.

2) Self compassion: Every morning smile back at yourself in the mirror and say these words aloud a few times...
"(Your name), I love and approve of you just the way you are!"
"(Your name), no matter what you've done or what you've left undone, you are worthy of love".
"I love you (your name), I really love you!"

For some people this may be difficult to say at first. But before long it will feel true and self-evident. Please persist!

Deep Listening Lesson 4: Learn to recognize and overcome disrespect

Can you think of the last conflict or disagreement you had with someone? Whether or not you can clearly recall what it was about, it’s likely that you can recall how you felt. This is because the seeming cause of many conflicts – the un-kept promises, the misunderstandings or the missed appointments – is not really what’s at the heart of the matter.

Whenever there is a conflict, there is something subtle that takes place. Many people know they feel upset, or angry, but they fail to realize that it's because deep down they’re feeling disrespected. Disrespect is a tricky emotion. A speaker can feel disrespected even though the listener might not feel they are being disrespectful!

So what is a skilled listener to do if disrespect can be easily triggered, but not easily identified?

A skillful listener looks and listens for signs of another person feeling disrespected. Some common signs are expressions of anger or sarcasm, verbal attacks, hostile body language, or refusing to communicate. A skillful listener inquires about these observations and asks if disrespect is an issue. He permits the speaker time to think about their true feelings. This allows room for feelings of disrespect to be identified. Once disrespect has been identified, the listener can move forward to work towards a solution or make any amends that may be necessary.

Skilful listeners know that when a win-win solution is not achievable, they can still agree to disagree. Ultimately the quality of our relationships is more important than specific outcomes. Why? Because an outcome is a one-time affair, whereas a relationship lasts a long time. Even when we disagree on some issue, we do not need to be disrespectful.

Practice for the next few days: Listen for clues in the conversation that indicate you or others may be feeling disrespected. Notice or just ask if disrespect is an issue. Once this is identified, many creative possibilities become available for authentically addressing and resolving these evoked feelings of disrespect. With a basis of respect, people generally calm down and coming to an agreement becomes more workable.

Deep Listening Lesson 5: Listen for common purpose

After disrespect (lesson 4), the second cause of most conflicts is a lack or a loss of common purpose. Until mutual purposes can be identified or reaffirmed, very few conflicts will ever be readily resolved.

Even enemies, by virtue of their common humanity, will have certain common purpose, i.e., the need to survive, thrive, to connect, be respected, and ultimately to be loved and leave a legacy. What ‘enemies’ are often in conflict over, especially in business and personal relationships, are the best ways to get such needs met.

If respect can be developed between people working at odds, then a foundation will exist for exploring and/or re-establishing common purpose. Differences may still exist, but the possibility for coming to agreement is significantly enhanced if mutual respect and common purpose are identified and set solidly in place.

Listening for common purpose then, is done by first hearing all the ways people are working at cross-purposes. A skilful listener then listens for the places where mutual purpose might be hiding in the conflict. By focusing on mutual respect and mutual purpose, a skilful listener will be addressing the things that can constructively make conflict resolution a possibility.


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