Guest contribution by Dr. Thara Vayali
Listening can be hard, especially in difficult conversations or discussions with people we spend a lot of time with.
To listen like you mean it is to honestly hear the whole statement of the person who is speaking in order to have a meaningful conversation. Most of us speak so that we can be heard and have someone reflect back that they have understood us.
Yet most of us listen so that we can speak, often interrupting a speaker with our agreement or disagreement.
And round and round we go.
In all this speaking to one another, we often forget that the act of conversation is a gift. It is an invitation to witness their expressions and to be present as a valued contributor. When someone wants your attention, it is important to recognize this gift and listen. Stop what you are doing, or if you need time to wrap up what you are doing before you listen, say so. When you engage with your full attention, the interaction will thrive.
To be able to be present and listen like you mean it, you must develop two trusts:
- Trust yourself. Trust that you will not forget what you have to say. You may change it based on what you hear, but trust that if something is important to you, it will not disappear.
- Trust the other person. Trust that they are doing their best to express themselves. They may end up using language that makes you defensive or causes you to digress, but what they really want is for their experience to be understood.
Once you can employ these two trusts, you can begin the practice of listening.
It’s not about what you do; it’s how you do what you do.
The five steps to honest listening are always based in the two trusts:
- Say (to yourself), “This is not about me”. Even if the words are directed at you or the phrases include you, remember that for the most part, the speaker wants to be heard by you. The details can be hashed out later.
- Pausing makes all the difference; it takes a reactive statement and gives it some breathing room, a moment to assess if now is the time to speak. It shows the speaker that you have the capacity to process what was said.
- Assume that what is being said is true – from the speaker’s point of view. You may not agree, but suspend your disagreement for a moment and reflect on, “What if it was true?”
- Assume you have misunderstood. Each person is a world of definitions, connotations, nuances and histories. Even though we use similar words, we often mean very different things.
- Become curious about them and their situation by asking:
- “Tell me more about X; I’m not sure I understand it.”
- “It sounds like…am I getting it?”
- “I’m so interested in this part of what you said; what is it all about?”
- “What were your previous experiences with this like?”
- “I’ve never felt that; what is it like?”
The key to becoming curious is actually feeling curious, not just repeating these questions or paraphrasing someone’s expression. Listen so that you can find something you are interested in learning more about. In conversation, authentic curiosity is refreshing and automatically engages the listener’s mind.
These five steps are built on being present, which is built on trust. Instead of specific actions – which may be found in “active listening” tools – what I offer are ways of thinking, of being, of feeling, so that when we listen, we are doing it fully and inherently.
Listening, like many different skills, takes practice. Each time you enter into a conversation, be grateful for another opportunity to be there. Listen like you mean it and allow your conversations to thrive.
Thara Vayali is a Naturopathic Doctor & Yoga Teacher in Vancouver and is also a UBC alumnus. She is obsessed with intestinal and immune health, hormones, and pain-free bodies. She is the creator of Change Natural Medicine: Budget conscious, membership based health consulting.