E015 - The under-appreciated art of listening

vocal liberation May 08, 2020

Well, hey there. Great to see you here. Welcome to this blog and today we're going to be investigating the art of listening. In other words, how to really hear people, and let them feel heard. I know this is a place where I could really improve, I’m on a journey with this too, so I’ll definitely be watching this video to the end and implementing the strategies and behaviours suggested here. Watch the video, or read the blog below!

So, why bother being a good listener? I think for one, it can fundamentally change the quality of our relationships at work, at home, socially, and even online. I think it applies to both zoom chats  as well as in-person conversations. 

If you’re watching this on Youtube – please click the subscribe button below. OK let’s dive in, and you can put these listening guidelines into action as you watch this.

Topic One: How to listen. So the first thing to do is to be present. Take a deep breath and try and breathe deeply and consciously while listening. And one of the best ways of really being present is to ground yourself – in other words, be in your body. To do this, feel your body in the seat, but also feel your feet on the ground. Another deep breath, grounding down to the feet. Our feet can be incredible allies for getting out of reactivity and our heads. 

And you can take that even deeper and create a sense of spaciousness – so that you're focused on what's being said and you're at home home in your body, but also simultaneously you open up a sense of spaciousness. And the object really is to be fully present with that person - and yourself. And so it goes without saying, but it'll go with saying too, that we should turn off notifications on our phones – dare to go 100% silent mode. Where possible, it’s a good idea to avoid having TVs, monitors or distracting street scenes in our line of sight. Move if you need to – if something is distracting you, move so you can  give them your full attention. 

Okay, so then: now we're sitting in our bodies, listening, what’s now? One of the first things that we need to do is to quit composing replies while they speak. In other words, clear our mind and just listen. Aim to not interrupt – so if you need to sit on your hands, do so! 

And I think one of the most beautiful things we can do is upgrade from listening from our heads, processing everything they say through our genius supercomputer upstairs. The invitation here is to drop into our bodies and specifically actually listen from our hearts. And many of the ancient spiritual traditions of the world speak of this: that our mind and the center of our being is actually in our heart-center, right here. In our modern culture it's not much like that. But in mystical Christianity they spoke of oculus cortes, which translates as ‘eyes of the heart’, and in Buddhism it's called heart-mind. So when we drop into the heart, I think it has an extraordinary ability to allow us to listen for a completely different place, which is an incredible gift to offer other people. So we allow our awareness to be centered in the heart. Got it?

And then on a more basic level, we can show that we're listening on the behavior level by nodding and moving our body. Maybe not so much that it looks like we are jonesing for more coffee, but just to nod and move the body as they speak/ I know this sounds basic, but some of us might have developed habits of not doing this. I myself developed a very mystical, meditative ‘stillness listening posture’ that wasn't very connecting or good for listening and a dear friend thankfully pointed it out to me. I like to call this phase my Namaste Face phase, and I think I maybe became a caricature of myself as a teacher / healer. Lord help me.

So just notice if you find yourself frozen, or with your arms crossed or any other body language that essentially says “I’m not listening to you” or “I’m blocking you”, or “I’m in outer space”. 

These will not be great signals to the speaker, and both sets of nervous systems can shut down in the process. And so even if you've had an argument and it's tough and you find yourself shutting down, or you’re shy, perhaps the invitation here is to open your body and be open and present with the other. 

Next! Making space for their voice. One of the most beautiful things we can do as a listener is to give them the gift of our full, open attention… receive what they are saying completely. To help you focus, you can even imagine that you have to repeat back everything that they say afterwards. So you'll listen very carefully, really hear and retain everything that they say. 

Another mindset shift is to let them teach you – have an attitude that you’re going to learn from the person, no matter who they are and what they say. Be genuinely interested in their point of view, no matter what. 

A deeper aspect of this is to really allow and accept their opinion,   point of view and perspective about the world as they speak. This can be very hard for us. We are mostly very threatened by other people’s point of view - if they don’t agree with our politics, spirituality, view on ecology, we can become very angry and afraid at the same time. So sitting and listening to them - hearing them out and breathing, grounding and making space inside – can help us open up to a world where lots of opinions and points of view are OK.

Taking this further - as we listen we drop our agendas about them –  we drop inner stories about how they should be, or who they should be. And do our best to accept them as they are. And that means dropping our judgments about them. 

So that might mean while we're listening that we drop the agenda of... planning to fix them, or tell them what to do, or to give them advice, or try and change them, or make them see stuff about themselves, or just give them a lesson about life or how you see it.

Maybe it’s a lofty goal, but it’s at least worth trying to be a heart-centered listener. 

Another big one while making space for the voices: is to not hold people to everything that they say while they're getting it all out. 

Figuratively, let the weather come through so they can express all the things. Perhaps they only really mean THAT and THAT, but it’s a huge gift to give people the space to be messy. Let them speak it out and work it out verbally. So many people carry shame around this – being messy and not coherent enough in their speech – help people drop shame. Most people have some degree of shame about expressing themselves, so I think it’s a beautiful thing to willingly choose to be a safe person for people to speak to. It's a choice and a skill: become a safe place for people to express, by learning to drop all of our agendas and receive them with our hearts. And perhaps our best response is “yeah I understand why you feel that way”, and potentially even repeat back some of their words and feel how they feel, while being authentic and at home in our body. 

Next - let’s talk about being authentic and at home in our body. So I think one of the things we can do is to balance our awareness inside out. For example, if we find ourselves leaning forward and we're so in the TV of what they're saying that we're actually not really at home in ourselves. It’s like YES, YES, YES! We're in the story but we're not actually home inside ourselves. It's very difficult to have an authentic connection if we're not actually in ourselves too. But there's also a balance of not being so far removed from the other that we’re over there, kind of checking them out and reviewing and judging, and separated.

So we’re neither removed and aloof, nor codependently enmeshed in their story – aiming to be at home in ourselves, so we're sitting in a kind of a balance, connected to ourselves and the other and feeling our body and breathing. 

And I think a beautiful thing we can do here is to connect with our inner body. In other words both the physical and emotional feelings that will pass through our body as they're speaking. And weather may pass through our bodies as we listen, as our bodies react to their words. We might recoil from their words, feel anything from joy, laughter, to sadness and anger. Oh, the suchness of life. And if we’re listening with empathy, when they express sadness, we might feel sadness too, or if they are afraid, we might feel that too. Connecting in with our bodies allows us to actually feel a deeper empathy as they're speaking.

And finally another one that we can even consciously open up to some eye contact, if that feels safe and appropriate for you. It’s worth knowing if you're looking away all of the time, as this sends very particular signals to the speaker. And without being creepy, allow your eyes to connect, – I think is a fundamental way of opening up safety between us, and ultimately really what we're looking to do here is co-regulate our nervous systems. As Gabor Maté says, “safety is not the absence of threat, it is the presence of connection”. So through a deeper kind of listening, we can let our nervous systems attune to each other, and in this act of coregulation, move toward a ventral vagal state in our nervous system. This can ‘bring us home’ from fight, flight, freeze or fawn, out of anxiety, numbness, anger, and shutdown to a sense of ‘social engagement’, attunement, groundedness and even love, to the highest states our nervous system is capable of.

So we can even start the conversation really dysregulated and nervous and a bit anxious, but by breathing and grounding and accepting and receiving each other, we can co-regulate each other all the way home.

And so really just to summarize this: the simple version is to really listen. Be present in mind, body and especially heart. Give them the gift of your open-hearted attention. 

And if you'd like the same from a partner or a friend, share this blog, and please let me know how this landed for you. If you’re watching this on Youtube, please subscribe down below. 

I hope you enjoyed this. Much love and see you soon I hope. 

Let’s take one last deep, loving conscious breath together.

Much love,