Listening well is listening with your heart — not just with your ears.
What gift is more precious than the gift of a listening heart?
We are able to give it whenever we want.
How? Simply remember to practice listening well. That means listening without distraction. Just ask and listen.
Doing anything without distraction is not easy. Without training, our minds are out of control. The best way to control them is to master any effective breathing practice (such as, for example, zazen meditation). Nothing is better at helping us to focus and let go of distracting thoughts.
Like everything we do, listening occurs in the present moment. Listening well is impossible when we are remembering the past, imagining the future, or focused on what is elsewhere. Listening well requires being fully present right here, right now.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but most of us are walking around with a lot of hurt, heartache, and resentment. We are not incessantly joyful; instead, we are almost incessantly dissatisfied. We miss much of our lives because we are lost in our thoughts. Developing empathy for the predicament that others are in makes us predisposed to listen well.
Listening well to another begins with adopting an other-directed attitude. Being sensitive to the concerns and problems of others requires suspending our egocentric concerns. The more we are focused on gaining or grasping what we want, the less well we listen.
There’s an important irony here. We think that we will enjoy experiences more if we are focused on gaining what we want from them. Life doesn’t work that way. The more we are focused on gaining what we want from experiences, the less we enjoy them.
Encounters (interpersonal relationships) are important. As a result, we often try to control them so that we gain what we want from them. Since other people don’t want us to manage them, this tactic usually works quite poorly.
The better way is to be open to whatever happens. This means letting go of trying to use encounters for personal gain. Instead of being egocentric, it’s better to focus on the other person. [See the post “Arguing Essay” in the moral well-being category.] Doing this is giving the gift of a listening heart.
How does it make you feel when someone listens attentively and nonjudgmentally to what you have to say? How does it make you feel when someone shares life with you that way?
Avoid making things worse. There are two chief ways we do that when listening. The first is talking too much. Focusing on asking good questions and talking no more than half as much as the other prevent that. The second is giving unsolicited advice. Don’t. Unless asked to help, resist the temptation to try to fix others’ lives.
Don’t take my word for it. If you don’t already realize it, please test this for yourself.
Once you realize how well it works, just keep practicing it.
Though it’s not easy, listening well is as simple as it is valuable.