A good listener is a witness, not a judge of your experience
We took a day off to celebrate our ninth anniversary. We had fun all in all but the part I remember most was when we enjoyed a quiet breakfast together at one of our favourite cafes.
The food and coffee was great, but that wasn’t it either. When I drill it down, it was the moments we spent listening intently to each other share our different perspectives and ideas on the struggles that we’ve had managing one of our kids who has been showing anxiety and manifesting difficult behaviour.
Our hearts have been burdened and we’ve had to rely on God and each other for strength.
Seated on a comfy red cushion seat, side by side, I shared my thoughts and observations with him, and he listened quietly and was not in a rush to speak.
Too often, as Stephen Covey put it, we listen to respond, instead of to understand. The reason why we do this habitually is because we seek first to be understood, rather than to understand others. But when we do so, the other person inevitably feels second-rate, judged, or simply not heard.
He gave me a gift that morning – the gift of empathic listening. I didn’t realise it at first; it was all in the subconscious. But then something remarkable happened. Instead of feeling anxious and worried with what was going on at home, I felt secure and calm. We moved forward in the conversation, sharing anecdotes and stories and laughing over some of them.
When I say empathic listening, I mean listening with intent to understand. I mean seeking first to understand, to really understand. It’s an entirely different paradigm. Empathic (from empathy) listening gets inside another person’s frame of reference. You look out through it, you see the world the way they see the world, you understand their paradigm, you understand how they feel.
Empathic listening is so powerful because it gives you accurate data to work with. Instead of projecting your own autobiography and assuming thoughts, feelings, motives and interpretation, you’re dealing with the reality inside another person’s head and heart….You’re listening to understand. You’re focused on receiving the deep communication of another human soul.
Empathic listening is, in and of itself, a tremendous deposit in the Emotional Bank Account. It’s deeply therapeutic and healing because it gives a person psychological air…When you listen with empathy to another person, you give that person psychological air. And after that vital need is met, you can then focus on influencing or problem solving.” – Stephen Covey
Therapeutic and healing? Like psychological air? Wow give me some of that already.
In this day and age, we are all talking simultaneously, on different platforms, with viral messages flying everywhere and devices beeping every so often. It is hard to keep quiet, stay focused, and listen to any one person at a time.
But for the sake of your family and marriage, this is a skill that we all urgently need to cultivate.
Because of that unrushed conversation and heart-to-heart exchange, we were able to strategise and come up with a fairly detailed plan on how to help our child and our family.
Because of those quiet moments, I saw how God had meant for us to come together to trust in Him and to work in partnership for His purposes. I also saw how my husband’s ability to look at things systematically complemented my own slightly more haphazard, but ideas-based thinking.
I know we may not have the luxury to do this kind of retreats often…I know I sometimes complain of being ignored and not heard…but I also know this is something we will have to keep working at – listening in an unjudgmental, kind, truly understanding way.
Feeling heard and understood is perhaps one of the most underestimated and overlooked ways of loving in this digital age. But giving each other that space and time to feel heard and understood and valued in a marriage is worth every single effort. It is truly a gift of love.
So the next time your spouse or partner says “I’ve something important to share…can we talk?” Drop your phone, turn off the distractions, get you both comfortably seated, stay eye-to-eye so you can get the meaning of those words through the gestures and body movements, and seek to understand things from his/her perspective.
I leave you with a quote from The Lost Art of Listening:
The feeling of not being understood is one of the most painful in human experience. Not being appreciated and responded to depletes our vitality and makes us feel less alive. When we’re with someone who doesn’t listen, we shut down. When we’re with someone who’s interested and responsive – a good listener – we perk up and come alive. Being listened to is as vital to our enthusiasm for life as love and work. So is being a good listener. Understanding the dynamics of listening enables us to deepen and enrich our relationships. It involves learning how to suspend our own emotional agenda and then realizing the rewards of genuine empathy.