In my opinion, listening is a skill that is the most essential thing to master in life; besides breathing of course, and we tend to all do that naturally. To interact and communicate with people, whilst allowing them to have truly been 'heard' is the most wonderful and validating thing. It is essentially like being one's own Switzerland. What I mean is when people are truly listened to the situation becomes automatically diffused.
Most conflicts that occur, whether it's in the work place, between friends or family are often underpinned by not being heard. The bottom line is that if the person doesn't feel listened to, they feel that their voice and opinion doesn't matter. They effectively are denied a voice. This can be blatantly obvious, from the boss who doesn't register one's own ideas, to a friend who sits and allows you to talk and then comes straight back with their own problems. Friendships are a common place where to be truly heard can often fall by the wayside. Here is a case in point:
John talks to his best friend Jo and confides in him about how annoyed he is with his girlfriend.
Here are some examples of John not being truly listened to -
- John: 'I feel so angry with Megan at the moment, and I feel really sad and frustrated about it'.
- Jo: 'Oh well, perhaps the relationship has come to an end'.
- 'Oh god, that is just so awful. I am so sorry for you, let me give you a hug.'
- 'Well me and Tracey are going through some really awful things now too.'
In all of Jo's responses there is no validation of John's feelings and the situation. Let's go through the responses:
Response 1 - there is no hearing of what John has said, rather a jumping to what the result should be. John isn't saying he wants the relationship to end, he is simply communicating his feelings.
Response 2 - on the surface this may seem like a caring and loving response. In fact, there is no validation but rather Jo is putting all his emotional responses onto John. He has made it solely about himself. HE feels sorry for John so HE wants a hug. There is no thought or acknowledgement of what he has just heard.
Response 3 - It is more obvious that Jo has completely jumped to his own stuff and John will be left with a feeling of not being heard and that his feelings are not worth anything.
How many times have you sat listening to someone in a conversation and have been waiting for them to end so you can simply jump in with what YOU want to say? We all do it, and I believe the reason is two-fold. Firstly, people are desperate to be heard themselves and don't want to get involved in the listening side of the deal. Secondly, it boils down to being able to own our feelings. If we can't be in touch with our own emotional responses, then we are unable to monitor them as we listen to someone else.
So, to use the example - Jo can't deal with hearing about John's relationship because it stirs up uncomfortable emotions about his own. He therefore cannot truly hear what his friend is saying but rather he needs to jump in with his own stuff. This is sad because most people aren't able to handle their own painful emotions and therefore don't actually properly listen each other.
So how do we surmount this? The key is to keep things clean and here are some tips:
1. When talking back to someone about what they have heard talk from the 'I' position. It means that you own YOUR own feelings and not what the other person is feeling or what the other person should or shouldn't do. By relating to each other from what comes up, it creates an openness which leads to a deepening connection.
2. Repeat what you have heard back the person so you can check if you heard them correctly. It is so common that although we think we have listened, we are sub consciously editing what we do and do not want to hear. It also shows the person that we are listening and are interested in what they say.
3. I call this the suit of armour trick. When you think there is a conversation coming up that could be painful, imagine yourself wearing a protective suit. This is not something that completely shuts out any empathy or love. I imagine a door over my heart that opens from the inside so I am not devoid of empathy!
4. If in double check and check again that you have truly heard the person correctly. When we know that we are in a relationship that fosters respectful listening and validating, the meaningful connection is the most beautiful thing.