Written by Leslie Appleton Young
Today I want to talk about something that I am very passionate about: the art of listening.
In the hyper-connected world we live in with so many channels of communication, it strikes me that the art of listening and the quality of our conversations have been compromised. So I want you to think about how you would answer the following question: As a rule, do you listen, or do you wait to talk?
A few years ago, I was up at the Bay East AOR speaking at an event and afterwards went to lunch with Dave Stark, their marvelous Gov Affairs Director. And about half-way through lunch something happened. I had the strangest feeling, and I had to stop the conversation and do a little side bar chat with Dave. And what I told him was that I was having the most intense feeling of being listened to. That it was amazing – we had been there for at least 30 minutes and not once did he interrupt me, complete my sentence or turn the conversation back to himself. It felt odd and so very special. I was being heard. And I asked him if he knew what it was talking about?
He said yes and mentioned a deleted scene he had watched from the movie Pulp Fiction. In this scene Mia Wallace (Uma Thurman) meets Vincent Vega (John Travolta) and the first thing she asks him is, “When in conversation, do you listen, or do you just wait to talk?” Vincent thinks about it and then responds, “I wait to talk, but I'm trying to listen.”
Ever since that day I have been acutely aware of how we talk and listen to each other and how precious the gift of “just listening” is.
Have you ever shared with someone something that was very important in your life, like a recent cancer diagnosis? And their immediate reaction was to tell you about someone close to them who also has cancer. Or about problems you are having at work and they automatically share their work horror story. When you become aware of this it is remarkable how often we do this to each other. And to be fair, most likely they are trying to connect with you. How does it feel? Does it help you in that moment to hear their story? The reality is it shifts the focus back to them.
How about just listening?
Say "I’m so sorry."
Say "How can I support you?"
What does that feel like?
The psychiatrist M. Scott Peck famously wrote,
Since true listening involves a setting aside of the self, it also temporarily involves a total acceptance of the others. Sensing this acceptance, the speaker will feel less and less vulnerable, and more and more inclined to open up the inner recesses of his or her mind to the listener. As this happens, speaker and listener begin to appreciate each other more and more, and the dance of love is begun again. True listening requires a setting side of oneself.
A conversation should not be a competitive arena where the opponents are fighting for air time. Fighting to be heard is exhausting. Remember, if you are the one doing all the talking, you aren’t learning anything.
So, I ask you all to do a simple experiment. Just for today, practice the art of intentional listening. Get in the mindset of listening to understand not to respond. Not to judge. Not to fix. Just listen. Let them tell their own story. Give every conversation your patience and attention and respect. When we listen with compassion, we give someone a chance to feel seen, known, and heard. The greatest gift we can give to someone else and to ourselves is the gift of feeling heard. It’s priceless.
I’ll close with this wonderful quote from David Augsberger –
Being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person, they are almost indistinguishable.