Transform Your Relationships with Deep Listening

Kirsten Marion
Feb 14, 2020 · 5 min read
Photo by Christin Hume on Unsplash

“No one ever listened themselves out of a job.” ~ Calvin Coolidge.

Who listens to you?

As we grow, we continue to crave deep, meaningful connections; to feel understood as a person with unique, valuable thoughts, emotions, and intentions that are deserving of attention. If we are lucky, we might be able to come up with a couple of people who give us this feeling, typically a spouse, parent, best friend or sibling. But many of us don’t feel like we have anyone who truly listens to us even in a marriage or with a large network of colleagues and friends.

Have you ever been speaking to someone and found that they are distracted by something and not really listening to you? How often have you said, or wanted to say, “You’re not listening”, or “That’s not what I said” or “Can I finish?”

You probably thought this was annoying, frustrating, and disrespectful. You may have even stopped trying to share your thoughts and feelings, become angry or shut the conversation down. Self-doubt sets in and we end up considering it risky to ask family or friends to listen to us and, self-censoring, restrict ourselves to nothing more meaningful that the usual social pleasantries or light banter.

If we truly want to be heard it is crucial to get beyond self-doubt and self-censoring and there is a way. As physician and life coach, Dr. Erica Roesch, says, “To be listened to, we first have to believe that we are worthy of another human’s ear by ​first listening to ourselves. Being our own devoted listener is a radical act of self-love that comes from slowing down, taking the time and being vulnerable. When we listen to our own wisdom, we ​can then invite others to listen and this sparks human connection.”

And then there’s the flip side. Connectedness is a two-way street, each partner in the conversation listening attentively to what the other said. How are you holding up your end?

To whom do you listen?

“How well you listen, to whom, and under what circumstances determines your life course — for good or ill. Done well and with deliberation, listening can transform your understanding of the people and the world around you, which inevitably enriches and elevates your experience and existence. It’s how you develop wisdom and form meaningful relationships,” You’re Not Listening, (2020), by Kate Murphy

None of us are good listeners all the time. It’s human nature to get distracted by what’s going on in our own heads. Listening takes effort. But the ability to listen carefully degrades if we don’t do it often enough. If we listen for what is alive in a person that hasn’t been spoken yet: What are the speaker’s deeper feelings and desires, emotions, desires, wants, and needs?, we bestow a gift that the people who love us, or could love us, most desire.

What is Deep Listening

It requires the temporary suspension of judgment, and a willingness to receive new information — whether pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral.”[1]

  1. Hearing is not the same as deep listening. Hearing is passive while listening is active. Listening is not about teaching, shaping, critiquing, appraising, or showing how it should be done.Listening is about the experience of being experienced.
  2. Deep Listening occurs when someone takes a genuine interest in who you are and what you are doing. It goes beyond just hearing what people say. The best listeners focus their attention and recruit other senses to the effort. It’s paying attention to how the speaker says it and what they do while they are saying it, in what context, and how what they say resonates with you.
  3. Understanding is the goal of deep listening, and it takes effort.

Deep Listening for Beginners

Be Interested

“You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.” How to Win Friends and Influence People, by Dale Carnegie

  1. Ask thoughtful questions. Not the kind that act as an interrogation (which can make people feel threatened and shut down — a true conversation killer) but the ones that carry the power of insight and growth. These help the other person to express themselves clearly. Everybody you encounter has something going on in their heads, whether it’s a child, romantic partner, boss/co-worker, client, or whoever. These open the door to creativity, empathy, insight and knowledge.
  2. Focus on their answers. If you’re barely listening to someone because you think that person is boring or not worth your time, you will actually make it so, they will immediately sense your inattention and shut down. To listen well is to figure out what’s on someone’s mind and demonstrate that you care enough to want to know.
  3. Respond with genuine interest. When you respond with genuine interest to what another person is saying, and encourage them to tell you more, they can seem surprised; as if it’s a novel experience. When they find in you someone who will finally listen to them, you’ll notice them relax and become more thoughtful and thorough in their responses. Often they will share many more deep, important thoughts and feeling than you expected.

Be Curious

  1. Be open to the idea that your way of seeing things may not be the only, or necessarily the best, way. The best listeners don’t feel the need to always defend their own point of view or way of seeing the world but instead put the focus on what has meaning and possibility.

For people who are continuously looking for new learning opportunities and taking on new challenges, listening to others becomes an easy and natural way to continue on their self-development journey.

Be Attentive

  1. If something else is on your mind, let them know. Do what you need to do, like a call you have to make, or a text you need to answer, and when you are finished let them know you are ready to listen. Then bring openness and empathy to the conversation with a focus on being present to the speaker’s experience, feelings, and needs.

Attentive listeners elicited more information, relevant detail, and elaboration from speakers, even when the listeners didn’t ask any questions.

Deep listening requires us to be fully present, curious, interested and suspend assumptions. It establishes trust. It’s an organic process that allows new possibilities to surface. Its ability to cultivate authentic connections can transform any relationship.

[1] Deep Listening, Retrieved from https://www.csh.umn.edu/education/focus-areas/whole-systems-healing/leadership/deep-listening

[2] 5 Ways to Improve Your Listening Skills, by Harvey Deutschendorf (September 24, 2014), Retrieved from https://www.fastcompany.com/3036026/5-ways-to-improve-your-listening-skills

Age of Awareness

Medium’s largest publication dedicated to education reform | Listen to our podcast at aoapodcast.com

Kirsten Marion

Written by

Publisher, coach+mentor for writers. I write about creativity, history, literature, and psychology. You can reach me at kirsten@commondeerpress.com

Age of Awareness

Stories providing creative, innovative, and sustainable changes to the ways we learn | Tune in at aoapodcast.com | Connecting 500k+ monthly readers with 1,200+ authors

Kirsten Marion

Written by

Publisher, coach+mentor for writers. I write about creativity, history, literature, and psychology. You can reach me at kirsten@commondeerpress.com

Age of Awareness

Stories providing creative, innovative, and sustainable changes to the ways we learn | Tune in at aoapodcast.com | Connecting 500k+ monthly readers with 1,200+ authors

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