A while back I purchased a book of essays called The Wisdom of Listening and now and again I read an article to help me evolve as a compassionate listener in my practice.
Just tonight I opened to an essay called “Feeding One Another” by Anne and Charles Simpkinson and I am swimming in the realization that many of us do not feel nourished by many of our conversations or may not feel heard at all.
The Simpkinsons begin their article with the following: “Listening and being heard are important psychological nutrients that we need every day.” Do you feel like you receive these nutrients on a daily basis?
I want to share a longer excerpt from this article now:
“Have you ever wondered why some conversations — friends and family — are emotionally unsatisfying? Do you feel that hardly anyone is listening to you or understanding what you are saying? When you aren’t heard, do you wonder if the other person cares about you? If you find yourself contemplating these things, you are not alone. As a nation, we have the technical expertise to create a vast web of communications using highly sophisticated technology, but as individuals our exchanges with each other are often primitive, unsatisfying–even unhealthy. Many people live every day of their lives in a state of chronic psychological malnourishment and don’t even know it.”
I want to extract the following statement from the excerpt for further exploration:
“When you aren’t heard, do you wonder if the other person cares about you?”
How defeating to feel as though the one whom you’ve chosen to speak with does not care about you due to the fact that they are not fully listening to you — that they are not noticing what you say (and what you don’t say), as well as all the nonverbal clues that good listeners pick up on. In essence when you don’t feel heard you feel invisible.
In my view, having nourishing conversations involves reciprocity. For a time one person speaks and the other listens. All the while, the speaker has an awareness of audience–that their friend is attending to them and may need some attention as well. With this awareness, the speaker can then pause from their own speech and turn their attention to their friend, who now has a chance to receive the gifts of attentive listening. Think of relationships you currently have which have this lovely reciprocity and which do not. What do you do and how do you feel when you give the gift of your listening ears, but do not receive the same gift in return?
In addition to reciprocity, there is a clear exchange of words and an equal exchange of cues indicating that listening is happening: eye contact, nonverbal gestures like nodding, reflecting back what one has said, asking questions, etc. When these cues are not present, it is hard to know if one is actually listening at all. What do you do when you don’t receive these cues? Do you stop speaking? Speak louder?
I want us all to feel nourished by being heard. Being heard is validating and also healing. When we receive recognition, care, and conscious presence from another we feel less lonely, less isolated, and more, well, alive.
Make a list of those in your life who give you the gift of authentic, true listening, where reciprocity and attentiveness reign. Next to these names write a few notes about how you feel when you are with them. These characteristics can now become your guide as you discover nurturing listening-centered relationships.