Keep Your Mouth Shut (Why It Pays to Listen)
You are standing right there in front of them seeing words come out of their mouth. Despite your intention to focus in, those words seem to float off and land anywhere but your mind. When they do, you’re wrapped up in interpreting those words through your own filter. You are thinking about what you might possibly say in response. You are mentally making a to-do list, or thinking about what you’ll have for dinner. Do you even remember what they said? And how about what you said? Was it relevant? Was it supportive?
This happens all the time…
And we wonder why there are constant miscommunications, disappointments, and hurt feelings. We’ve become accustomed to interacting in a way that is often void of true presence because we’re distracted by everything else going on in our lives. This pattern denies the speaker the understanding and support they desire, and often gives the listener an air of ignorance or aloofness when they do chose to respond.
I’m guilty of this halfhearted listening, and you probably are too. My guess is that you’re much more aware of it when you are on the receiving end. Because there’s nothing worse than pouring out your ideas or emotions to someone only to realize their eyes are glazed over and they aren’t even engaged in what you are saying. Keeping our mouth shut and deeply listening is something we can all work on. Me, you, that chatty gal at your office, your mom, your best friend. All of us.
Communication is an art form, not merely an exchange of words. Deep communication delivers information to all of our senses and requires full presence, true listening, respect, and compassion. Thought leader Eckhart Tolle explains:
“True listening goes far beyond auditory perception. It is the arising of alert attention, a space of presence in which the words are being received. The words now become secondary. They may be meaningful or they may not make sense. Far more important than what you are listening to is the act of listening itself, the space of conscious presence that arises as you listen.”
When we disengage from our conversations we are not showing up for the others person and we aren’t bringing out best. Every person in our lives and every conversation holds value. That value will not translate into new knowledge or information if we aren’t mentally and emotionally present to receive it. Think of each interaction as an exchange of words, energy, and wisdom. Ideally there is always at least one person in the role of the receiver (listening) and one in the role of the sharer (talking). There is an unstated, invisible, yet understood assumption of these roles.
Know which role you are taking on in the moment. Throughout one conversation you will likely flip flop between the two roles. When you’re in the role of the listener stay fully engaged. Notice the other persons body language and facial expression. See if you can pick up what they are saying between the lines. Keep eye focus, and connect into not only what they are thinking but also what they are feeling. Remember, sometimes we don’t need to say anything, we just need to hold space and be there for a person. That can be more valuable than any words. When you bring your presence you offer the biggest gift of all.
It sounds like a lot of work, right? Well in a way it is.
It’s a practice, and skill set that develops over time. The benefits of engaging in conversations and relationships this way far exceeds the energy invested in taking the time to really listen. You already know this. Remember the last time you had one of the hands down AMAZING conversations with someone? You were both fully present, deeply connected, and actively engaged in your exchange. Magic happened.
When you keep your mouth shut, and engage in true listening a few things happen:
- You give people the opportunity to be truly heard. If you went about your day and considered how often we really listen to each other, I’d say it happens only a fraction of the time. As a coach I’ve learned to recognize that we all deeply crave being heard and understood. Deepak Chopra explains the first need of the heart to be attention. Be generous with your attention and you will receive it from others as well. They will appreciate it more than you think.
- You create deeper connections. When we engage in conversations with a pure exchange of sharing and listening trust is developed. And when we trust each other we are given permission to be our authentic selves, express freely and openly. Whether this is your boss or your lover, it will lead to a more satisfied relationship when you are able to go beyond surface level conversations. This translates to more happiness, success, and fulfillment.
- You evolve at a faster rate. When we deeply listen we are able to empathize with another human being we expand our consciousness and grow into more evolved people ourselves. Listening activates your awareness, which is the foundation for transformation. Open your eyes, your ears, and your heart and you’ll get to experience life in a whole new way.
- You set the standard for meaningful and respectful conversations. Truly listening to others shows what you bring to the table, and what you expect from others. If you want someone else to tune in and listen, show them the way by offering the same courtesy to them. Take responsibility for your part in conversations. Like attracts like, so you’ll start to engage more with others who share the skill of deep listening. You’ll probably also notice those Chatty Cathy types are thrown off by your engagement, and will either zip it more often or start hearing you out too.
- You are your best. True listening requires your presence, attention, and focus. It brings you right into the moment. It engages you at a higher level of consciousness. Quite literally you are showing up as a more “activated” version of yourself. If you’re trying to win someone over (job interview or first date) wow them with this skill and make a lasting impression of someone they want around.
Keep in mind that true listening requires you to set boundaries. You don’t want people to just dump their emotions and problems all over you. However when you give them space to release those thoughts, you offer them the opportunity to express themselves freely. This builds trust, a feeling of acceptance, and allows you to develop deeper and more meaningful conversations.
In conversations with those that are especially “toxic” you’ll want to protect yourself while still giving them the opportunity to express themselves. Imagine a barrier or filter between you. As you connect into the conversation decide what you want to let through your filter. Decide that negativity and judgment will remain outside your energetic barrier. This is the skill of detached involvement: the ability to engage with someone fully while remaining detached from their drama. It’s a great skill to bring along when you’re listening.
Challenge yourself to keep your mouth shut a bit more often this week, and really listen in to others. What do you notice? What do you learn? What changes? Have fun exploring this!