Lately I have been confronted with my listening skills, or rather, my lack there of. I had always considered myself a good listener, an empathetic ear and occasionally a keen adviser. And, I have always enjoyed being with other apt listeners. I have recognized how my soul responds and feels soothed. And, to the contrary when I don't feel well listened to.
One thing that I've noticed is that when I am listening carefully, I am actively engaged in the story that is unfolding. I am withholding my arguments, judgments and affirmations. I am not thinking up clever responses or debates. I am simply listening. Now, when you are in a competitive debate with someone, sometimes it is appropriate to gather your thoughts while the other is talking in order to be prepared for your turn. However, when you are in the company of a friend, acquaintance or loved one, that is not a respectful listening response. For a long time I thought that by inserting my comments and thoughts while they were speaking was the best way to show someone that I was listening and caring about what they were sharing with me. Now, I am more under the impression that it is wiser to pause if need be when they are finished speaking, collect your thoughts and opinions based on the entire verbiage, and then comment as necessary.
As I have chosen to actively apply this new consciousness I have towards listening, I've begun to see more clearly how few of us (I'm still working on being lumped into the "us" grouping) actually listen well. And frankly, it has been a real challenge for me. I find myself telling my loved ones to stop interrupting.... to listen to me... to allow me to finish my thought... to Shut Up! even. Losing my patience often with them, saying a variety of things such as "Forget it!" or "I don't know why I bother to ever speak!" etc... It is certainly creating a lot of uncomfortable moments within my household.
So, that brings me to my next observation about listening, and being truly "heard". We all want to be heard. Even people who are quite shy and introverted want to be heard (in some form or another). We ALL want others to know that we exist. That we have contributions to be made, interesting thoughts from time to time, funny antidotes... We all have an intrinsic need to be known, that our existence matters to someone, somewhere.
That is why listening carefully is so vital. It is the best and most powerful tool to show respect for another. To show through apt attention that the person that is speaking matters, even when you disagree with what is being said. The next time you are having a conversation with someone, I challenge you to create body language and visual contact that communicates with the person to whom you are listening to that you truly are engaged and really hearing them attentively.