Listen to Understand, not to reply
Somewhere along the way, in our conversations we learned to listen to reply, rather than to understand. One quick social media check affirms this as it permeates our culture and politics. While these areas can appear easiest to observe and identify, it's so important to see how this happens in our homes with how we parent, within our marriages, and how we engage as family. For some of us, this might be less noticeable.
Listening was meant to go with understanding and a call to action from both people that resulted in a collaborative step towards union.
It is easy to make listening about ourselves. It's subtle. It's the, 'yeah, but..' responses. It's the fact that we are listening with our ears but in our own headspace, we have our own things we want to say or our own agenda we want to get across. It can be how your body conveys that you're not attentive, no matter how you think you might be listening. Maybe you did in fact listen, but your actions aren't backing up your ears. Or perhaps deep down you really don't have a collaborative spirit with a desire for union in said conversation.
Listening well demands a combination of internal and external work. It demands that the listener be clear minded, figuratively ‘empty' to fully be able to intake what's being said. That space then needs to exercise intake: interpretation, retention, recall, and then interact with feelings and ultimately decide on an action. When we fill that space along with, 'yeah, but..,' or a reply of our own agenda, that space your brain uses for interpretation, retention, recall, interactions with feelings, and action, has to share space with additional retention, recall, interaction with feelings and its own desired action that tangentially relates (or not) to what's being heard and taken in. See how that occupies space, effort, and cost of energy that may have impacted our ability to listen well?
Listening well also needs external. It needs the body to back your effort to listen. Is your posture attentive and body facing your conversational partner? Is your body preoccupied with a TV or phone? Is your body doing something else entirely or in the middle of a task? Again, these can be subtle, but convey a powerful message of disconnect and create areas that invite ripe misunderstanding.
If one listened well, typically, a bodily response is needed. It could be the need to convey empathy. Perhaps touch is needed. Perhaps a change in behavior is being requested, or a task to be completed. Without this external application, listening ultimately 'falls on deaf ears' because the body didn't take in what came in through the ears. To aid this from not happening, identifying and express feelings within conversation are so important because our body responds to when we identify feelings whether we pick up on it or not, by literally physically retaining it. For example, when we feel sad, we feel heavy hearted and hard to breathe, or when we are happy, we have smiles on our faces and our shoulders feel light.
The most impactful internal barometer lies in the spirit. Do we have a collaborative heart? Do we desire union? Do we desire co-action? If we don't, listening immediately becomes about me and not us, and the seeds of listening to reply are born. So take time to really tune into yourself and ask where in this spectrum you are in the moment. Question your motives. From there, it will indicate to you what you might need to do. You might need to purposefully create more brain space. You might need to adjust your body to convey better attunement. You might need to do what you don't want to do.
What does this do for you? You gain internal honesty and a desire to externally act on trust, and ideally, love. You also gain an understanding of self, and the other which then gets a chance to convey itself. All because you took the effort to listen to understand, not reply.
I encourage you to give it a shot and see what you notice! How much of the subtleties can you pick up on? What feedback can your conversational partner give you? May these efforts give you insight, clarity and enriched relationships.
Andy is a therapist who provides positive, helpful, thought-provoking information and tools for you