Think back to the last time you felt deeply understood in a conversation. Take a minute and really allow yourself to recall and a memory.
What made it so memorable? What feelings did it evoke in you? What did the other person bring that enabled this experience? Chances are, the person you were communicating with was “being” with you in a very specific way. They were really listening to what you were expressing; not to respond, but to understand.
In my experience working with clients – both children and adults – heartfelt listening is like wrapping a blanket of compassion around them; gifting them with an opportunity to explore their thoughts without fear of judgement or interruption. As the listener, it is a privilege to be able to hold this sacred space for another, with the sole intention of allowing them to share their story, to reflect and very often come to new realisations, different perspectives and fresh ideas to move forward.
Heartfelt listening sends a powerful message – you matter! It enhances intrinsic value and worth and strengthens relationships.
Four steps to nurture heartfelt listening
When a conversation happens, the first thing to do is set the intention to be present for the duration of the conversation. This means bringing your whole self to the moment – mind, body and soul, or as St. Benedict put it – “listen with ears of the heart”. If you’re feeling agitated and restless, connect to your breath to help bring you back to the present.
Quality of attention
The quality of the attention you bring to the conversation matters. Giving exquisite attention to another is a paradox of being so present that your presence recedes and what is left is a safe space, free from expectation and judgement.
Genuine interest and curiosity
Engage with genuine interest and curiosity in each moment. This means wondering what they are going to say next, and after that, and after that… This introduces the feeling of safety that comes from knowing they aren’t going to be interrupted. Naturally racing thoughts start to slow and with that, clarity appears. It also means having a genuine interest in what they are thinking, without automatically calculating what it means to you.
Become aware of your own internal chatter as it arises, while simultaneously holding the space without interrupting the other person. This takes practice, as many of us listen with half an ear, eagerly waiting to jump in with our advice, views, thoughts and opinions. Learn to quiet the internal chatter, especially if it contains judgement, assumptions or other ego-based responses. Just listen.
As you begin to listen in this way, it may feel laborious and stilted at first. But with practice, it can become second nature. If both parties commit to this practice, you can save yourselves from many misunderstandings, confusion and hurt over the long run.
Next time you’re in conversation, try it out for yourself and see what changes in the quality of your relationship. Everybody loves being listened to in this way; children especially thrive. Often their “problems” seem to simply melt away as the safe space allows them to express freely, be seen, heard and understood. When this happens, half the battle is won.
I guarantee that integrating this into your life will improve the quality of all your relationships – with colleagues, friends and family. You may even begin to wonder how you ever communicated before.
“Deep listening is the kind of listening that can help relieve the suffering of another person. You can call it compassionate listening. You listen with only one purpose: to help him or her empty his heart”. – Nhat Hanh