Have you ever talked to another person, and become so distracted by the quivering of their lips? I’m not talking, sad quivering, I’m talking, the quivering where you know they are dying! absolutely dying! to say something the moment you stop talking. Or they actually do, and start by giving you an answer when you weren’t asking a question. We all know that person, people, and at the end of those conversations, walk away feeling unheard and frustrated. Like the big thought bubble is completely empty because truly, there was no exchange of information. You were talking, but no one was really listening, and because no one was really listening, you disengaged. At every stage of development, there is a common thread, we are asked,” are you listening,” told to “please listen,” and demanded,” why aren’t you listening to me?” The golden thread is listening, but no one truly defines what that means, or how to do it.
Listening is a behavior, an action, and from a young age, we learn how to do it well, selectively, or not at all. Now, yes there is some in between, and we can’t all listen and listen well 100% of the time. Let’s be honest, my kids saying,” Mom, mom, mommy, mama…” over and over, I may stop listening. But truly listening with intent, and purpose without having your hand on the “go” button for your turn, takes learning. Listening changes over time, and can become a struggle within relationships, marriages, and self as years, and circumstances get bigger and more stressful, and maybe it’s even more important to know “how to do it effectively,” at this point. Maybe.
What listening really entails
As a therapist, my sole job is to listen, be in the present moment, and hold space for another person to share, express, and process thoughts and questions. Listening, but also hearing what is being said, or not being said for that matter. Working to support a client in connecting dots, finding patterns, and triggers, and working towards a solution that feels attainable and productive. My job is not to tell my client what is the solution, or sit, mouth quivering until they stop talking, to give an answer that I think sounds fantastic. That is and never will be helpful for anyone! I am listening, hearing and observing. I am not anticipating when it is my time, but instead hearing the words to invest in a connection.
New couples come into my office, talking about communicating their wants and thoughts, and not feeling heard. Not feeling like those they love, have relationships with, or work for, are hearing them or acknowledging what they are saying or asking. But instead are waiting for their turn to debate, contradict, redirect, or offer a solution. Maybe, just maybe all you want to do is vent, feel heard and validated for the feelings and emotions you are having, be acknowledged for the idea you are taking a risk to share, or offered credit because maybe just maybe you truly know what you are talking about.
Full disclosure, I struggled for many years in my teens, to feel confident in my thoughts and ideas when I was in school. When I spoke my information was not heard and acknowledged. Risk-taking to offer an idea or answer a question was exchanged for observation and agreeing with others when I truly did not feel the same way. I also did this in relationships, and found I lost myself, wondering “why is this not working out.” Over the years, I learned to invest in the power of observation and agreeing turned into questioning, and questioning turned into opinions. I learned that listening is an act of intent and connection, and working to slow down in all areas of our lives to not only observe ourselves, but others, and what they are really saying may entail.
Here are some things that you must look out for when you are listening to somebody-
1. Am I listening more than I am speaking?
Slow down, disengage from what you “have to say, ” or the point you have to get across. Sometimes being able to be quiet, connect, and hear what is being relayed works to slow down your thinking so that your answer is about what is actually being shared, not what you want to be heard back. In talking I define, and in listening, I connect.
2. Observation is powerful!
Listening is about being quiet, but it is also about the visual presentation, the environmental triggers, and what another person’s body language is telling you in that moment in time. It’s about observing self as well. How am I physically feeling, and what are my triggers.
3. It isn’t always about getting your point across
Listening is not about keeping score, not about checking off tasks, and definitely not about how much more you know another. If you are listening to another thinking these things, you might as well cover your ears and smile. The other party will benefit more. But really are you acknowledging what the person is saying, and working to connect to the “behind the scene” meanings. Someone will always know more than you, and that is okay, awesome actually, but listening to what someone is saying (verbally and visually), is so important! Working to not always have a checklist in your mind or task list that YOU are trying to get across, but instead listening with intent, knowledge, and connection in whatever way that may be, can be beneficial.
What are we teaching ourselves and our children about listening? If I take myself for example, when my kids are talking to me, am I stopping, looking them in the eye, and engaging? Or am I moving, multitasking, and answering or commenting at times in a way that makes little sense to the question they asked. We learn from a young age how to listen and engage, how to communicate and get our point across. The way those skills are modeled or acknowledged in our environment is what becomes comfortable and “right,” and in turn can work to impact relationships and connections without being aware of why. Listening is a life skill, a privilege to be heard and connected to, and it’s in taking the time to stop, look someone in the eye, and truly connect to what is being said. It’s about holding space for gaining knowledge, offering insight, or inviting a good vent session. What it is not, is an opportunity to be heard without offering equal opportunity to another.