Listening is a wonderful gift that allows the people we love to feel understood. We see it as part of a two way conversation, an exchange of ideas, where one person shares, the other responds, and both people feel more connected.
The responding part is easy, and we all get so excited to contribute that many conversations become a lot more about talking than listening. We’re trying to be helpful by providing solutions, support, validation, or advice, but sometimes a response is not necessary, or even helpful. Sometimes it’s important just to listen.
Getting back to basics, take a moment to remember that listening, in its purest form, is a one way tool. Someone else is speaking, and you are simply receiving the information. It’s a courtesy you offer someone else that may not have any direct or obvious benefit for you, and that same courtesy can be offered when it’s your turn to share.
To get your listening skills back on track, try this. When someone needs to tell their story or vent their frustration, just respond by saying “I get it.”
Of course, the goal here is to actually “get it”; to listen with the intention of understanding where someone else is coming from, and give them the gift of open, clear space in which to express themselves.
Imagine how it would feel if someone did that for you; if you had the space to completely unload something that was bothering you, without interruption or any need to include someone else’s opinions in your experience. Imagine that someone sat with you, listening openly to every word, and then nodding their head in complete compassion, just said “Ya, I get it.”
While you might be a bit stunned that you just had the spotlight completely to yourself, and no one was waiting there to fix your problem or tell you you’re right, here’s what you might realize in that open, clear space.
- That your feelings are valuable enough to stand on their own. They don’t need support from anyone else.
- That your experience can be accepted exactly as it is without any validation or approval.
- That you are empowered to make your own decision about how to move forward.
- That feelings don’t always need to be fixed. Sometimes just letting them out clears the way for a new, creative path to emerge.
- That advice is now optional. You can always ask for friendly advice from those you trust if you want.
Logically, you can probably argue that all of the above is true anyway, but actually having that experience is whole new ball game. You’d be surprised by how easily problems go away when someone just listens.
Try it Out
Now, it’s your turn!
Sit down and listen to someone you love without any agenda. Another human has an experience or a viewpoint that they want to share with someone, and your job is to sit there and absorb it completely.
Next, use “I get it” as your only response. Don’t offer validation or an opposing view, don’t share your own similar experience, and don’t think about anything else while they’re talking. When their thought is complete, just say “ya, I get it.”
If this is just as easy in practice as it sounds on paper, then you have come pretty far in your personal development, but most people will find it at least a little bit challenging. You might really want to be helpful, you might have an opinion about whether something is right or wrong, or you might feel left out if you can’t make your own contribution. These are just remnants of ego that keep you from being completely present.
If you’re not used to having the “sharing space” all to yourself, this may also be challenging on the receiving end. Is it weird to feel accepted without question? Is it uncomfortable when someone isn’t there to tell you you’re right? Were you expecting some advice? These may be things you are excited to get used to, but they may also shed light on what you really want from people when you’re ready to share, and that’s valuable too.
If you feel any kind of discomfort in offering or receiving this open clear space, chances are it can be resolved by identifying and clearing the emotional issues behind it. If you find that identifying the source of your mind chatter is difficult, that is my specialty, and I’m always here to help.
This tool has the biggest impact when it happens on both sides of a relationship. Share it with your friends, family or significant other, and practice really listening to each other. The rule of the game is that your only response can be “I get it”, and the goal is only to understand.
Once you get better at it you can test your skills. See if you can respond by sharing what you heard them say, or asking questions about their experience. As long as your response is entirely about understanding what they have just shared with you, not fixing or editorializing it in any way, then you’re on the right track. Once you master this skill, you might forget all about the chatter that used to cloud your mind in a conversation. Trust that when it’s time to share your solutions or advice, you’ll know what to say.
When you are in a relationship with someone who actually gets where you’re coming from, it feels amazing, and can take your connection to brand new heights.