How Listening Deeply Builds Stronger Relationships
The words we hear are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to listening.
If we hear only the literal definitions of the words someone is saying, we are only hearing what’s appearing on the surface; similar to only seeing the part of the iceberg that is above the surface.
Listening deeply goes beyond hearing the meaning of words and involves being in touch with where those words are coming from; the intention of the person we are with:
- Are we able to feel and see where they are coming from?
- Are we truly open to expanding our perception to include their perspective?
- Are we willing to let them feel heard and understood?
Often, this kind of listening is blocked by our own ignorance and misunderstanding; someone says something to us and we believe that what they are saying is about us.
For example, recently I was playing soccer and felt disappointment from the coach when I told them that I cannot play during this game which he really would like me to be available for. Initially, my mind thought:
“I did something and then the coach seemed disappointed. Therefore I am a disappointment.”
But actually, with deeper listening, I started to see the whole iceberg. I noticed that the coach wasn’t in a good mood to start with. Listening deeply I could hear their own inner disappointment. I could hear that they were not truly deeply happy and at peace in that moment.
Paying close attention to what they are feeling beneath the words they are saying, there was a recognition that those feelings were coming from within them. Seeing this, it is not as personal as it seemed. So through a willingness to listen and look a little deeper than how things initially appeared, I saw that I wasn’t a disappointment.
Listening deeply goes beyond words and really refers to being aware of what is happening. In this example, I saw the way the coach continuously responded with frustration to how his team was playing. There was a time when a player on his team did a great dribble and had a shot which missed the goal. I noticed that the three players on the bench as well as the whole team playing on the field were all very supportive of that player. Yet the coach was upset and frustrated.
There was a recurring pattern of frustration and disappointment because that is what the coach was feeling within themselves. Noticing this, it helped me see with greater clarity that it wasn’t about me. This allowed for natural compassion for the coach to arise and so I felt like I had a chance to help him feel heard and also help him to understand. I am familiar with how helpful it can be to have someone listen deeply and extend a warm invitation to understand or see things differently. So I have the opportunity to help the coach understand where I coming from with care and clarity:
“Hey Coach, I wanted to explain to you why I am not playing. As much as I would love to play, I am still nursing my leg from a torn tendon in my hamstring and feel it is best to ease into playing.”
To which the Coach replied:
“I understand, but it’s week 12 into the season and I need players.”
For context, my injury had prevented me from playing for most of the season and I had just played 25 minutes for the reserves team to ease back into playing (this coach I am talking to is for the Seiners team which plays after the reserves and are in a tougher league). About 5 weeks prior to this game, I had tried to play and ended up re-injuring my hamstring. So I limited my playing time to something I felt comfortable with and knew would be supportive of healing.
When I heard the coach say this, I immediately picked up on his intention, smiled, and answered:
“I understand but I cannot rush the healing process.”
After this, I sensed that there was a greater understanding between us. Whereas before I felt afraid of disappointing him, now I felt only calm because I picked up on the intention, saw that it wasn’t about me, and extended a hand to help build a bridge of understanding between us.
When I left the game to go home, I felt a greater sense of acceptance from both of us.
In the past, I would tend to avoid situations like this because I didn’t want there to be confrontation and I didn’t want to be disliked by anyone. But through my own willingness and the help of people around me, I felt the courage and willingness to address things directly.
In this particular situation, I was going to just leave after I told the Coach I can’t play, but someone helped me understand that it could be helpful to explain why I can’t play to the Coach.
Initially, I felt nervousness and anxiety but after taking some time to listen deeply to the coach and everyone else that was there, I started to see that it wasn’t personal. This brought about a natural sense of calm and confidence. I then took an opportunity to build a bridge of understanding and from that, a greater sense of acceptance emerged.
Within such a short period of time, the anxiety and tension of not wanting to disappoint someone were transformed into calm and compassion. Additionally, that relationship is now far stronger as it is built on greater understanding.
When you are next presented with an opportunity to listen, know that it is an option to allow yourself to listen deeper than what is appearing on the surface. You can:
- Listen to what they are saying.
- Listen to where that is coming from within themselves.
- Listen to what they are saying, is saying about the way they see the world and feel inside.
- Listen to what hearing that brings up within yourself.
- Listen to the ways that this can help you grow and expand your perception.
Listening is not something that takes effort but rather, a sincere heartfelt willingness to cease judgement and open your heart.
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Thanks for reading. Feel free to comment on your thoughts or any topics you’d like me to write about — my ears are open.