I recently attended a workshop to improve our listening skills; the listening skills required for us to build more intimate relationships with those around us. The goal of the workshop was learning to listen with attentive silence—so others could begin to hear the wisdom coming from their own inner teacher, or ”soul”.
As Parker Palmer reminds us in his book A Hidden Wholeness, interrupting, giving advice, and “fixing” the person we are listening to, will only drive his or her soul back into hiding.
What is Listening
During the workshop I discovered first hand how difficult it was to be vulnerable when the person my “soul” was speaking to, was unable to listen without trying to fix, or give advice regarding my “problems”. As a therapist, I was trained to be a good listener. But when it came my turn to be the “listener”, I was surprised at how challenging it was for me to remain silent, and not begin offering the speaker “helpful suggestions and advice”.
Since that workshop, I have begun listening more carefully to myself, and paying attention to conversations taking place around me. I began to notice how often we talk with our heads about shallow, day-to-day “stuff”. It’s like being in a Ping-Pong game bouncing ego thoughts and opinions back and forth.
The amount of actual listening is at best, very limited. In fact, it’s amazing how often we immediately respond to others by either agreeing with them and then taking over the conversation, disagreeing with them and then taking over the conversation, or simply taking over the conversation by abruptly interrupting them and changing the subject.
The opportunity for the soul of the other person to speak, and be heard by us, is rare. The opportunity for our own soul to speak and be heard by others is just as rare. We seem to have trouble simply listening, and holding the soul of those speaking to us, in the safe and welcoming silence created by deep listening.
As a result, the opportunity for authentic, intimate conversation is often painfully missing in most of our relationships because our souls remain hidden. We forget that it takes time and silence for a soul to feel safe enough to show up, and begin speaking from the heart, about what is truly important.
Four Important Communication Skills
The workshop taught four essential skills we need to build or improve our relationships with others.
- The first is expectant listening without interruption.
- The second is learning how to ask open-ended questions that encourage the soul or heart of the speaker to speak more deeply. Keep your questions focused on the person, not the intimate issue or problem they are sharing with you.
- The third is to share from your own heart or center when you respond, not your ego, or head.
- And the fourth is always leave several moments of silence before you respond to what the other shared with you.
For example, when someone shares something personal with you, whether it’s from their head or their heart, learn to leave five or ten seconds of silence before you respond. And when you do respond, Be careful not to change the subject. Speak to them from your center to their center; from your soul to their soul, by sharing with them how their words impacted you. What it stirred up in you. And then ask them an open-ended question that invites them to go deeper.
A Real Life Example
A good example of this skill happened to me when I shared with a friend the fact that I had just purchased a 1998 Dodge Ram truck to pull our small camper trailer. She paused for a moment and then gently asked the open-ended question “how does it feel to own a new truck”? In other words she kept the focus on my feelings, not the truck.
I literally had to take a deep breath and look within to answer her question. My ego had been prepared to talk more about the truck. It took a moment of inner attention to explore how I felt about the truck.
Because of the workshop, I was very careful to share from my center, and not simply return to a conversation about the truck. I told her it nostalgically took me back to the wonderful years in up state New York when driving a pickup was so much a part of our eight years living off the land. I shared with her some of the wonderful memories from those days. In that moment my soul or inner-teacher showed me how important the truck was to me emotionally. Without the invitation of her question to look within, that wisdom would have never come to my consciousness.
A primary takeaway from the workshop for me was the realization of how easy it is to keep our souls hidden when we choose to ignore the four communication skills above.
Another takeaway was how easily we move into self-focused narcissism when we speak through our egos; how easily we can impatiently interrupt those speaking to us with our judgmental and shallow self-importance.
When we speak from the heart or soul of our true self——- and encourage others to do the same by asking open-ended questions that invite them to speak from their center or soul——the conversation immediately moves deeper and becomes more intimate and meaningful.
It was a great workshop. It reminded me how important it is to slow down and truly listen to those we are in conversation with. The compassion and sense of caring that comes when souls are in intimate conversation with one another is gentle and emotionally powerful.
What do you think? Please comment below and give me your thoughts on this subject of listening.