Ears, Heart and Mind
The organ of listening is not solely the ear but the ears, heart, and mind.
Voluntarily or not, we spend most of our day in conversation- talking to each other pretending like we’re really listening. Your kids, spouse, peers and employees are constantly sharing their reality with you.
This should help us to live rich, collaborative, fulfilling lives but instead we sit exasperated thinking these people are so hard to understand.
There is a way of being with people though that transforms relationships, opens possibilities for yourself and others, and acts as a doorway to healing and high performance.
The secret to this is a kind of listening has less to do with the ears and more to do with attention, ease and human connection.
HOW NOT TO LISTEN
So much difficulty in relationships is really a listening deficit.
In a world where your phone pings with a notification every few minutes it’s hard to focus on the slow, meandering rhythm of a person talking…particularly if you have already decided this person is stubborn, unreasonable or unimportant.
Most often, we do a strange version of ‘listening’ which goes something like this: refresh Facebook; glance at the next appointment while our colleague, spouse or daughter tells us about her day; mentally run through a checklist of things to do after this call and the 3 main points to get across to this person regardless of what they say and what they have on their minds.
This is exactly the kind of listening I am not talking about here.
I too have occasionally ‘listened’ to someone I disagreed with, inwardly rolled my eyes, and thought to myself ‘there he goes again, always making things difficult.’
Now here’s the fascinating part of this story:
When I have this dialogue going on in my head I really do believe I am listening; I feel convinced I am listening not to my own stories about him but to rational facts about his behaviour.
The truth is, of course, that in this instance I am 100% not listening to him. I am like Narcissus, blinded by self- absorption.
This is a trick of the human mind, a curious feature of mental life:
Our mind is one giant special effects department. The things we think look true to us and we forget those are not facts but perspectives. Not seeing this, we get rigid in our ways of thinking, seeing and being in the world and then proceed to blame it on the ‘stubborn and unreasonable other’.
This insidious mental habit dampens all of our personal and professional relationships.
The antidote? An experience of true listening.
Famed mythologist Joseph Campbell in his iconic interview series with Bill Moyers said, “you must have a room, or a certain hour or so a day, where you don’t know what was in the newspapers that morning, you don’t know who your friends are, you don’t know what you owe anybody, you don’t know what anybody owes to you. This is a place where you can simply experience and bring forth what you are and what you might be.”
This captures the heart of true listening- listening free from the baggage of your own ideas, opinions and identity.
Listening of this calibre requires that you press PAUSE on everything else that’s going on in your life and all your previous opinions about this person or issue. It is an invitation to take a breath, drop your guard and settle in for a conversation.
A WORD OF WARNING
Why don’t we listen?
Short answer: it’s scary.
Putting aside all the things we do to appear impressive or admirable while in the presence of another is profoundly threatening to the ego that thrives on comparison and one-upmanship (this is not just your ego, by the way, this is another universal feature of the human software).
If you don’t believe me, try it- listen to your colleague, boss or spouse with nothing on your mind and see if you don’t start to freak out a little.
Putting down our defenses is unfamiliar but we cannot hear another through a layer of tough armory.
I guarantee you, the last time you really heard your business partner, parent, kids or best friend was a while ago (maybe even AGES ago!). I can also guarantee that if you listen the way I’m suggesting here your relationships with your family and team will be forever transformed.