“I don’t want you to fix anything! I just want you to listen”
How many times have you said this, or had this line said to you? Or, have you ever said this to someone, or had it said to you?
“This isn’t about you! This is about me – stop making it about YOU!”
And, one more. . .
“You are talking but you aren’t talking to me! I feel like I could walk away and you wouldn’t even notice.”
Ah! Listening and speaking, communicating, connecting. . . . What the heck are we up to? From these few examples above, it really gives you something to wonder about.
For me, listening is a gift. It is not given for personal gain. It is given from the heart. As a gift, listening brings full intention to the present moment allowing all parties to be fully engaged and connected.
The sharing of thoughts and feeling through speaking is also a gift. Every time we speak we share the essence of our being, our experiences, and, at the same time we make ourselves vulnerability to potential judgment and rejection. Too often, though we aren’t conscious of our intention of our sharing, and most of the time we are wanting some personal gain. Think about it. What is it like to be in conversation with people who are talking or listening to you in order to get something for themselves, something they aren’t asking for directly? For me, it kind of feels yucky, as though I’m being used.
Ask yourself – What’s my intention for listening to this person? What am I listening for? Does my listening elicit trust? Am I listening for opportunities to talk about myself? Many of us listen in order to connect and to witness; and we listen in order to give feedback, advice or counsel. We also listen to gain information. Being intentional about your listening can make a huge shift in how people speak to you.
Rarely do we truly give ourselves through listening. That’s probably why so many people hire therapists, counselors, coaches, consultants and ministers. We want to have the experience of being witness in a way that makes us feel like we matter; even for just an hour a week! Sometime we want feedback or advice but most often, I believe, what all of us are wanting through our listening and speaking is a way to engage with another in order to feel like we matter.
How We Learn Our Unique Style of Speaking and Listening?
If you look at what it was like to be you in your family, at school, maybe in social gatherings, you’ll begin to see how you came to choose your specific style of speaking and listening. Maybe you had to keep talking and talking and talking, otherwise you’d be ignored. Maybe because someone else did all the talking you learned to tune out and stopped listening altogether. We learn to speak and listen based on our interpretations of the environment we live and work in. We check out the situation and make choices based on what’s going to best serve us.
Along time ago, when I was a little kid, the sixth child of nine, I couldn’t get a word in edge-wise. When I did speak I would tell stories I thought were funny, but people only laughed at me, not with me. I wasn’t taken seriously, and well, no one really cared what I had to say.
Early on I experienced the loneliness of not being seen or heard. In high school, though I was somewhat popular I still felt invisible on the inside. I came to decide that I had nothing to say that was of any interest to anyone, and so to a large degree I stopped talking. I stopped having thoughts and opinions or stories to share.
I also came to decide that there are a lot of people like me who don’t have any one who’s interested in listening to them either. I decided that I wanted to provide what wasn’t provided for me. I learned to be a good listener. I learned to be curious and fascinated with each person’s unique story and the wisdom they’ve gained through their experience. I loved being told that I was a good listener and I felt fulfilled that I was filling a void in other people’s lives.
All of that obviously led me to be doing the work I do and have been doing for the past thirty years as a therapist, spiritual guide and life and business coach. And, even through my profession I rarely speak more than what’s required to engage others in the dialog or discussion.
I believe my level of mastery as a coach, facilitator and trainer came from my background, learning to say little and to focus on engaging others in speaking their wisdom and experience. I find that most people know what I have to tell them anyway, so rather than boring them I’ll engage them in a dialog that empowers them to access their own wisdom, their expertise and also the essence of their being. They feel seen, witnessed and acknowledged. To some degree my personal gain is that I get to live vicariously through their experience, and at the same time, enjoy the fruits of my labor. I feel fulfilled doing the work I love to do.
The bottom line is that when I’m curious and interested enough to let people talk they’ll provide the majority of what I would have said and they’ve most likely empowered themselves far more than if I’d lectured and ended up empowering only myself.
So, you can see that like all of us, I’ve got a specific intention in the way that I listen and speak as a coach and facilitator. My intention is not to be boring – in order to avoid rejection, loneliness and invisibility, and to engage people in what they like to do best – talk about what they know – themselves, which empowers them to generate from their own wisdom.
And, yes. . . . I love when people are genuinely interested in who I am and what I’m up to. Like everyone else, I love to talk about myself when given a trustful ear to listen.
I encourage you to notice what you are listening for and what you are speaking to. Obviously this will shift and change depending on the circumstances. The process of noticing also allows you to be a witness to yourself. The very act of intentionally listening to yourself will cultivate amazing feelings of fulfillment within you. Give it a try, if you dare!