Updated: May 26
I never used to be a good listener. If you'd asked me, I would have told you I was a great listener. And I really thought I was. In fact I prided myself on being one. I would spend hours 'listening' to my friends and family and their problems.
But what I was actually doing was waiting for them to stop talking so I could talk. I had plenty to say, if only they would shut up for long enough for me to impart my incredible wisdom on them. Some of the time (ok, maybe a lot of the time) I don't think I even heard what they were saying. I was too busy crafting the perfect response.
But then things changed, and I have to tell you, I feel ill thinking about it now. Note, I also feel quite ill writing this - it's not easy to acknowledge the icky bits of ourselves, even when we know how much we have changed and those icky things are icky things of the past.
How unsatisfying it would have been for them to be on the other end of that kind of listening!
We think that people can't tell, that they don't notice when we're not 'present'. But you know, don't you? I have no doubt you can remember a time (or dozens of times) when you were speaking to someone about something really important to you, and you had this feeling that they were off on another planet, even though they were nodding and ahhh-ing in all in the right places. Pretty crappy feeling isn't it?
Why do we do it?
I can't speak for you, but for me, it was a case of wanting to be liked. I wanted to impress people, and show them how smart and wise and great I was so they'd like me.
One of the things I want most is to be heard, really heard. Once I acknowledged that, it was difficult for me not to be that for others. I didn't want them to feel the emptiness I felt when my voice fell on deaf ears. So I honed my listening skills. Multiple personal development courses helped with this, along with meditation. I learned to be present in each moment without thinking of the past or the future. I don't beat myself up for the way I used to be. I didn't know any better. Very few of us do.
These days I focus on being present in every conversation I have. I listen more deeply with an intention of having people feel heard, and I talk less. And if I forget, I have a beautiful daughter who reminds me I'm off in my head and to come back again.
Drop me a line if you struggle with staying present. I have some great tools to help with this.
"Deep listening is the kind of listening that can help relieve the suffering of another person. You can call it compassionate listening. You listen with only one purpose: to help him or her to empty his heart." (Nhat Hanh)