How often are we truly heard in our life?
I wonder about this. The more I practice simply listening to my clients the more I realize how rare it is. When my friends and family are speaking to me I notice that I'm not always present, I'm often thinking about what I'll say next. I notice this pattern the most when I'm hanging out with my friends from graduate school. When our conversations become intellectual or political it turns into what I fondly refer to as an "ego circle-jerk." My friends and I all clamor to get our opinions or statistics out there, we cut each other off just to agree. I find myself wanting to sound the smartest or to be recognized for a subtle or surprising point. But what I've been noticing is that no one actually cares about what I'm saying, they just want to get out there too. It's an odd dynamic. And yet, after a heated conversation like this I feel more secure in my values but I rarely remember what anyone else said. I'm curious if you can recognize this pattern within yourself...
When I walk into the room with my clients that all changes. I turn my attention completely to them and I'm often amazed at what happens. When people are heard they just open up. They feel as though what they have to say has value, perhaps for the first time in their lives. It's quite beautiful really. When someone is really being heard they surprise themselves by what they say.
But what does it mean to actually listen? Well, the most important factor for me is to get out of my own way. I make an effort not to plan my next words and to focus my attention not only on the words of my client but on their tone of voice and their body language. Not all information is transmitted verbally. More often than not I'll comment on how somebody spoke to me instead of what they said. "I noticed that you started to speak much faster when we were talking about your boss." or "It seems like it's difficult for you to make eye contact when you tell that story about your mother." These comments hold up a mirror to my clients, in explaining their behavior they can dive into the subtleties of their feelings.
In order to listen to my clients I need to also listen to myself. I make note of any seemingly random thoughts, images or impulses that I have; I notice when it's easy to pay attention, and when I want to run out of the room. I share these with my clients too. Often it's something that they are feeling too. Some clients think that I'm psychic but really I'm just tapping into what is in the room and in my mind. When I quiet down my inherent wisdom can arise.
Listening is much more than just smiling and nodding, wait for your turn to speak. Listening is an active process that requires presence with not only the speaker but yourself. I encourage you to try active listening with your friends and loved ones, you may be surprised by what comes up.