"Being listened to is the psychological equivalent to air." – Stephen Covey
A few weeks ago, I had a breakdown at home.
I have immense gratitude for my relationship with my husband. We both work at our marriage, and our work generally bears sweet fruit. Recently, though, there was a spate of time in which I felt like I was not being listened to by my beloved. He was hearing me speak, but I sensed that he was not really listening. My words were met with a non-sequitur or a witty remark. In that time of his not listening, I felt cut off, isolated, disengaged.
It’s not just my husband. I also can be a lousy listener (just ask my husband). And – while I know I’m making a big assumption here – I’m pretty sure you can be a lousy listener too.
That’s because listening is simple, but it is not easy. Not easy – and absolutely critical to our communication, our relationships, our teamwork, and even our mental health.
Listening is one of the principal ways we connect with each other. And by listening, I don’t mean waiting for the other person to stop talking so you can say something. I don’t mean fiddling with the phone and saying, “uh-huh” while someone near you is speaking. I don’t mean daydreaming about what’s for lunch against the murmuring background of a human voice.
LISTEN is the second principle of Authentic Communication. It’s the golden bridge between “who I am” (BE) and “what we can do together” (ACT). It is how we come toward each other, honoring our human needs for relationship and connection. It’s how we connect with each other.
Listening builds on the understanding of ourselves that we develop with practices of BE. From that foundation of personal presence – where I learn about more hidden aspects of myself and how they may be exerting undue influence on myself, my behavior, my communication, and my relationships – I can wholeheartedly turn to others. I can listen.
With the Intentional Listening practices of Authentic Communication, we build capacity for new ideas, far-out stories, and challenging perspectives. We drop the need to judge, correct or object. We listen not just for comprehension but also for connection. We strengthen relationships. We re-engage our colleagues, teammates and employees in what really matters.
When we think about the 80% of employees around the world who report that they are not engaged at work, and the incredible power of listening to connect people, we could ask two questions:
Listening is simple, but it’s not easy. You can start to strengthen your listening muscle by taking a few small steps. Eliminate distractions, don’t multitask, sit with both feet flat on the floor, and remember to breathe. These incremental acts of attention will help you become more present to the person speaking. They’ll create an inner environment that opens you to listening for connection.
From the connection we gain by practicing LISTEN, we can move to Authentic Communication’s third principle, ACT – mindful communication for productivity, efficiency and excellence. We’ll look at ACT in the next article in this series.