When Listening Falls Apart
A couple of years ago I went for a hike with two of my very dearest friends. I was looking forward to a day in the mountains with these people who I love and trust completely, enjoying some spectacular nature and stimulating conversation.
This was around the time that I was starting my new business as a communications consultant and coach. Authentic Communication, which had been a nascent idea for many years, was finally coming into being. It was an exciting and tender stage for me, and I looked forward to talking to my friends about what was happening with me and my work.
While the details of my new business were still coming into focus, I already had a lot of clarity around the vision and mission of my work. During our hike I shared that one of my financial goals was to dedicate a percentage of my income to charitable giving.
When my two friends heard my plan to systematically give away a chunk of my income, they began to ask questions about my rationale for this decision. The thing is that, this isn’t a rational decision. It’s a choice I make from my heart and a practice that I’ve engaged in for most of my life. It’s just part of how I operate.
They inquired with sincerity about my motive and intention. It seemed like my responses somehow weren’t satisfying. The questions kept coming. Despite my friends’ unquestionable love for me, I began to feel like I was being interrogated. And they found themselves repeating what they’d said because I didn’t seem to get it.
I started to feel overwhelmed, and I asked for the conversation to pause so we could walk in silence. What started as a fresh and beautiful day with closer than close friends had collapsed into disconnected despair.
So, what the heck happened?
We. Were. Not. Listening.
We all heard each other’s words, but, in that moment, and on that subject, we were unable to tune into their true meaning. Yes, we were trying to understand each other, but we were also trying to convince each other, to change each other’s minds so that we could come to some kind of agreement, when, actually, there was no agreement to be had.
All of us had become entrenched in our own points of view on this very personal topic. We were unable to receive each other’s messages without wanting to bring them into greater alignment with our own.
If listening can fall apart among really close friends on a leisurely hike in a spectacularly beautiful place, how much more likely is it that we fail to listen in the high-pressure environments in which we usually operate?
And the consequences of our listening deficiencies can be more serious than a disappointing afternoon in the woods. I even have to wonder if a chronic failure to listen contributes to the loneliness epidemic in the U.S.
In my career as a professional communicator, I learned the hard way that lack of listening skills could not only compromise my team’s efficiency, it could also jeopardize my role as a leader and even create reputational risk for my employer.
Without deep listening in my marriage, my husband and I can spiral into an intractable power struggle. I believe intentional listening helped rescue us from a critical time when our future as a couple was in question. We’ve learned that deeper listening releases tension and helps us experience more intimacy, peace and joy.
It’s also a tool that helps me navigate the political differences in my family. Despite our opposing points of view, through skilled listening, I can help ensure our time together doesn’t end in an argument.
In all areas of my life, when I make the effort to listen with empathy, openness and even humility, I reap the benefits of less friction, deeper connections and more ease.
Listening is simple, but it's not easy. We all think we do it, but do we, really?
The good news is that you can learn to be a better listener. There are specific listening skills that, when put into practice, open a world of possibility for how you communicate.
When you meet life with intentional listening, you unblock creativity, increase your efficiency, de-escalate conflict, release tension, and solve problems. You connect more deeply with others and yourself. You get even more out of your daily interactions and those precious days of adventure with people you love.
I hope you’ll join me for my next webinar to learn more. I’d love to listen to you.
I Can Hear You Now: Why Listening Really Matters and How to Do It Better
Tuesday, October 23 * 7-8 p.m. US ET
If you can’t join the webinar live, you’ll be able to access the replay to enjoy at your convenience.
Here you'll find some of my thoughts about communication, contemplation, yoga, life and various other topics. Thanks for giving them a read.