The Art of Listening

True listening is an art form we rarely encounter in our over-busy world. It involves setting aside one‘s own story to enter into the story of the one being listened to. It calls for a certain attentive stance that balances receptivity with engagement. In some ways true listening is like meditation—one disciplines intrusive thoughts and opens one’s mind to noticing: Noticing the timbre of this person’s voice; noticing how they are holding their body; noticing their cadence, the flow of their breath, whether any particular word or phrase catches in their throat or releases energy.

In fact it is a kind of union with the intention of the one speaking, an alignment if you will. The goal of this kind of listening is to support the person in their process of sharing—not to judge, debate, advise, or even agree. It is definitely about remaining open, not rushing to fill in a conclusion--because that would be your conclusion, not theirs.

When was the last time someone listened to you in this way? Or you listened to someone else in this way? All too often we listen in just the opposite way—jumping in with a comment like “Let me tell you about the time that happened to me!” or “I know just how you feel!” Well-meant, perhaps, but still having the effect of shutting the speaker down, of deflecting their story.

Parker Palmer’s lovely book “A Hidden Wholeness” describes circles of trust that practice this sort of listening. Leah Green’s Compassionate Listening Project is another great resource. This is also something we practice in many of my workshops . We need more of this in our world!

And—when was the last time you listened—to yourself in this way? Don’t our inner dialogs all-too-often go something like this: “I’m always so late/lazy/slow/messy; why can’t I be more (fill in the blank)?” Don’t we all too often judge, correct, debate with or advise ourselves when what we really—truly—need is to just open ourselves to what is on our hearts?

What would it look like if you set aside time at the end of your day to say—“How was your day today, (your name)? I’d really like to hear about it. I won’t interrupt. I won’t make negative remarks. I’ll just listen to you lovingly—if you’ll trust me enough to share.”

What would happen if you gave it a try? Why not—tonight?