The Gift of Listening

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This time last year I was preparing to complete my Life Coaching course. Things were crystal clear; we had a healthy baby on the way (we thought) and I was feeling incredibly happy with my lot. Lily was her usual happy hilarious self, Des and I had plans; 2016 was going to be a great year. And here we are in 2017, recovering from a year that hit the deck on March 1st 2016; the day our train took another turn.

One of the topics on my course that impacted me the most was the art of listening. I never expected to need it so much from people and the incredible gift it would be when offered.

Most people I learnt do not listen at a very deep level; we listen to words and stop listening as we start internalising and processing the words. We think about our response; sometimes we want to tell a similar story. Sometimes we want to tell a more impactful story; in our opinion. We listen with focus on ourselves and our own feelings. We find ourselves judging and evaluating; we can think we are wiser. In fast paced environments, we listen as far as we need to before moving on to the next problem to tackle.

Quite often we have the very best of intentions when our friends and loved ones are facing really difficult times; we listen to fix. All of the above is called Level 1 Listening; our awareness is on ourselves and what it means to us personally. I have been this listener, haven’t we all? When I find myself doing it now I don’t feel good; I feel pretty awful and it requires discipline to snap out of it. I beat myself up afterwards.  I have been on the receiving end of this in the last year; it robs you of energy you don’t have. Grief and loss is so incredibly uncomfortable for people and sometimes it’s easier to find ways to fix, offer advice and tell the person how you totally understand when you don’t. During the worst times I could not cope with questions and as humans we often divert to questioning when things are bleak. It’s exhausting for the person facing something harrowing; having to explain, fight off questions and having to listen to advice. If only we could relinquish some space and some air time and press the pause button on our brains to use our cute little ears.

I have also been on the receiving end of some incredibly focused listening; what is called Level II Listening. I have seen people lose sight of what’s going on around them. I have felt heard and I have walked away feeling energised and not depleted of energy. There has been silence when needed and I could breath. It’s been all about me (within reason); sometimes we all just need ten minutes of it being all about us. This type of listening is an incredible gift to a grieving person who often feels so isolated in their bubble.  When we listen with focus we want to fully understand; but not for the sake of ourselves.

When we listen with all our senses this is Level III Listening; also called Global Listening. I have seen people notice my energy levels change in conversations, seen me squirm in awkward situations and been in my corner. They have seen things I have not quite seen yet. There is never any judgement.

Listening can change the course of events significantly when you feel listened to by someone. I described this when I wrote about the relationship we had with our wonderful obstetrician and the journey we took to Belgium because she listened. We witnessed incredible listening by the wonderful midwives, our Chaplin and our bereavement counsellor who continues to use all her senses with us. I already know my first day at work tomorrow will be easier because of the gift of listening.

How can our children be good listeners as they grow and develop, if we hurry them along to get the next job done? I often get a LISTEN from Lily when I interrupt to tell her to put her shoes on; she just wants me to slow down and listen to her little story. And offer no opinion, advice or judgement.

Listening will always be a challenge for us all so let’s give it our best shot. Take a few minutes today to read these great quotes about listening.

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