HEARING & LISTENING
by Hayne Steen, MAMFT
“Genuine listening means suspending memory, desire, and judgment — and, for a moment at least, existing for the other person.” -Michael Nichols
There is a difference between hearing and listening. You can hear words without ever taking an emotional risk. You might even be able to repeat what's been said but that does not mean that you have actually entered into the moment with someone.
Empathy and the willingness to be vulnerable are keys to true listening. Empathy is described by Pscychology Today as, "the experience of understanding another person's condition from their perspective. You place yourself in their shoes and feel what they are feeling."
Far too often, we are starving for someone to feel what we feel, to identify with us in whatever experience we are going through. No one ever says, "there are just way too many people in my life competing to listen to me." No, our experience tells us quite the opposite. Most often we are alone in it.
A good friend recently asked me, "What is the one thread that connects all counseling clients?" I sat there for a moment a little stumped and thought about it. After a couple minutes I responded, "Pain. People seek out counseling when they are in some form of emotional pain." That's how I left it but somehow that did not feel like a complete answer. About a week later it finally occurred to me. People seek out counseling when they feel lonely in their pain. We need to know that someone is really listening.
[How Did You Find Me Here by David Wilcox]
“When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.” -Henri Nouwen
So, what keeps us from really listening?
There is no "one thing" that keep us from listening to one another. I submit that we are surrounded by so much external and internal noise and most often we would choose to numb or neglect the noise. Some men might even be tempted to blame their poor listening on "maleness." Sorry guys. That's a lame and tired excuse. Some folks might blame it on being too busy. We tend to insulate ourselves from pain by turning up the noise when we really just need some quiet.
What is external noise? Pesky cell phone alerts? Dogs barking? Cars honking? Police sirens blaring? Baristas brewing? Babies screaming? Is there a mound of laundry that whispers? Is it clutter on the kitchen counter that summons? Dirty dishes that smell? Could it be the chorus of kids whining in the back seat? Is our checklist of "to do's" only half way completed? A lack of margin? Is there a calendar that is way too full? Are our lives marked by rush and hurry?
What is internal noise? Do we cary around unattended heartache? Is there a billowing sea of anxious thoughts? What about our guilt or shame? How about dashed hopes and dreams? Is there some memory of being hurt or violated? Do we stay triggered by some trauma? Is there some loss that we are grieving?
[Soul Song by David Wilcox]
"Who can listen to a story of loneliness and despair without taking the risk of experiencing similar pains in his own heart and even losing his precious peace of mind? In short: “Who can take away suffering without entering it?" -Henri Nouwen
We have established that we live in an awfully noisy world. There are many competing voices clamoring for our attention. Gadget makers now attempt to sell us on the big idea that buying their latest product will somehow help us to feel more heard, more known, and more connected. In all honesty though, our gadgets only seem to trigger feelings of greater disconnection.
We stare at our individual screens and laugh alone looking up occasionally when necessary. We are absolutely mesmerized by our glowing screens yet we are severely underwhelmed by the company of one another. I can not think of another experience that has as much power to leave us feeling so desperately isolated and lonely.
Sometimes our very own lives shout for our attention (through break downs, burn out, illness, heart break) while other times there is just a subtle whisper. If you are currently in a season when you need some help tuning into your life, to the voice of a loved one, or to the voice of God, I'd love to offer you a safe space to come quiet the noise a bit.
Whether that looks like making a counseling appointment or a helping you select a SoulCare retreat, both are designed to invite you to come away from the external noise around us and courageously enter into the internal noise within. The good news is that you do not have to enter the noise alone.
May you find yourself listening with a greater sense of presence. And may you find yourself being deeply heard and understood as well. You are worth it.
[What You Whispered by David Wilcox]
"Do not believe that he who seeks to comfort you lives untroubled among the simple and quiet words that sometimes do you good. His life has much difficulty and sadness and remains far behind yours. Were it otherwise, he would never have been able to find those words.” -Rainer Maria Rilke
16 Ways to Be a Terrible Listener
Larry Barker & Kittie Watson, Listen Up
Nichols, R. G. and L. A. Stevens (1957). Are you listening?
- Interrupt the speaker.
- Don't look at the speaker.
- Rush the speaker and make them feel that they are wasting the listener's time.
- Show interest in something other than the conversation.
- Get ahead of the speaker and finishing their thoughts.
- Say, "Yes, but . . .," as if the listener has made up their mind.
- Top the speaker's story with "That reminds me. . ." or "That's nothing, let me tell you about. . ."
- Forget what was talked about previously.
- Ask too many questions about details.
- Call the subject uninteresting
- Criticize the speaker &/or delivery
- Listen only for facts (bottom line)
- Fake paying attention
- Tolerate or create distractions
- Tune out difficult material
- Let emotional words block the message
BOOK RECOMMENDATIONS FOR LISTENING:
Quiet - The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain
The Lost Art of Listening by Michael Nichols
The Voice of the Heart by Chipp Dodd
Let Your Life Speak by Parker Palmer
The Gift of Being Yourself by Dr. David Benner
Getting the Love You Want by Harvel Hendricks
Bible - 70+ verses dedicated to listening
FILM RECOMMENDATION FOR LISTENING:
The Life of Pi
Good Will Hunting
The Story of Us
Alone in the Wilderness