There is no better epiphany on this subject than was portrayed in the song written and sung by Simon and Garfunkel in 1964. The song entitled “Sound of Silence” has that famous line that all the baby boomer generation remembers, “People hearing without listening.” It was a mantra to society at that time to wake up and listen before it’s too late.
Is it too late? Has our government stopped listening to the people? Have our religions stopped listening to their own teachings? Our families stopped listening to each other? Have we stopped listening to our true human and SELF-values?
Because we live in such an ME-ME world of self-indulgence with a self-preservation focus, many feel it necessary to be on guard and always prepared to defend themselves. We are living in the “Separated States of America,” clutching tight to constant worry and fear almost every minute whether you are aware of it or not. Our youth have adopted the saying, “I’ve got your back.” Really, do we need to have someone watch our back? Is that freedom? We have shut down, stopped listening, and have gone into a protective cocoon armed and ready for imminent “disaster.”
Active Listening neutralizes fear and separation and opens the door to sharing communicative relationships.
What if I said that active listening requires letting go of fear? Sounds odd, but the truth is that is exactly what you have to do. For some, their mind and thoughts move so fast that they interrupt others because they fear they might forget what they “think” they have to say. For others, it might be fear of losing control, fear they may not make an impression, fear they may not be able to process for themselves and look dumb or the fear of thinking they are not going to be heard. Hearing has guardrails of protection, reality avoidance, and a closed gate. Some people have even prepared and added for protection barbed wire and locks with explosives just in case!
Active listening asks us not to compete or to contemplate what we think we heard, UNTIL we focus completely on the speaker and “the rest of the story.”
Listening is indeed an “equal opportunity employer”- it gives us the chance and the choice to remain open, without judgment, to thoughts, ideas, feelings and knowledge from others to foster share and care connections that we can use and learn from to navigate a better more peaceful life.
True active listening requires us to ask questions to gather greater understanding and information, not to tell someone what WE think! This is a THEY moment that doesn’t involve YOU unless they ask YOU a question or for advice. Here, the very fact that you may ask clarifying questions puts them on notice that you are actually listening! They will feel cared for and listened to-which will neutralize the possibility of anger, volatile words, and unpleasant reactions.
Active listening is the only true way to deal with anger and confrontation. If this doesn’t work, then nothing would have except leaving the scene-which sometimes you can’t do easily. Getting our feathers ruffled and getting defensive when listening to something you don’t like is an open door and a magnet to attract unwanted confrontation and separation.
Maintaining a calm and nonjudgmental internal and external stance before the other party has finished expressing and not interrupting to make your point is the best way to neutralize a possible disaster that will bring hurt feelings and mar relationships.
I make weekly visits to a detention center to teach conflict and communication skills to incarcerated youth. I am constantly amazed by the answers on the anonymous survey sheets that the youth fill out each class. When asked the question, ”Did the volunteer(s) make you feel included?” I always see the same answers-“She made eye contact,” “She called on me and listened to everyone,” “She answered my questions,” “We were allowed to speak,” and “She listened to me.” And am I making an impact? You bet I am-within 10 minutes after their arrival from locked cells most of the smirks, chair slouching and crossed arms are unfolded-the majority are leaning forward on the table-they are listening-raising their hands-and I find myself trying desperately to call on everyone and to have everyone heard. I have a training ground to practice being the best active listener I can be to a captive audience who is desperately trying to be listened to and figure life out. We share and care with each other when we actively listen to each other. They teach me something and I get to teach them something!
Active listening is an opportunity for the listener to learn something, and an opportunity for the speaker to outwardly express, be heard and process something.
So what have I learned since I started practicing active listening? I am realizing that society, in general, is not taking the time and effort to connect and listen to each other. Because so little listening is going on, our youth can’t count on us. Adult relationships and families are amok. Without the open connections in respectful ways, we forget to practice the basic human values of love, righteous action, peace and truth. Everyone has something important to say if you just take the time to listen.
The world isn’t all about us; and we have to practice giving and being available to those in their moment of need.
Open nonjudgmental connection is the basis and the embryo of intimacy and nurtures caring, sharing relationships.
You would be amazed by what I have learned and how much my quality of life has improved into freedom since I chose to talk less and listen more! And I’ll end with telling you what I remind the kids I work with every week –You have to first practice wanting to be better from the inside before you can act better on the outside. We need to “SHUT-UP and LISTEN –UP” to evolve meaningful relationships and take turns really listening to those we connect with.
This is “The Mediation Mentor” wishing you the best outcome for this day and reminding you to do something for someone else to make a difference because you can.