Listen with curiosity. Speak with honesty. Act with integrity.
The greatest problem with communication is we don’t listen
to understand. We listen to reply. When we listen with
curiosity, we don’t listen with the intent to reply. We listen for
what’s behind the words.
— Roy T. Bennet, The Light in the Heart
Dealing with an infertility diagnosis means communicating with your medical team, conversing with your partner and perhaps confiding in a close friend. The words that go back and forth can impact your health and are sometimes packed with emotion.
If you ever felt like people are not listening to you or perhaps you walked away from a conversation confused as to what the other person meant, you may want to cultivate a habit of gracious listening.
Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen, M.D., Clinical Professor of Family and Community Medicine at the University of California San Francisco School of Medicine and Founder and Director of the Institute for the Study of Health and Illness at Commonweal defines ‘gracious listening’ as listening with your heart.
Most of us go through life doing the exact opposite. We simply exhibit poor listening skills.
As Mindful magazine explains, “Poor listeners, underdeveloped listeners, are frequently unable to separate their own needs and interests from those of others. Everything they hear comes with an automatic bias: How does this affect me? What can I say next to get things my way? Poor listeners are more likely to interrupt: either they have already jumped to conclusions about what you are saying, or it is just of no interest to them. They attend to the surface of the words rather than listening for what is “between the lines.” When they speak, they are typically in one of two modes. Either they are “downloading”—regurgitating information and pre-formed opinions—or they are in debate mode, waiting for the first sign that you don’t think like them so they can jump in to set you straight.”
When a person feels that his or her words are truly being heard, they feel validated, accepted and better understood. Experiencing these feelings is very healthy and healing for the speaker.
It’s important to point out that ‘deep listening’ benefits the listener as well. In her book, Turning to One Another: Simple Conversations to Restore Hope to the Future, Margaret Wheatley believes it enhances relationships when we are willing to sit there and listen. “If we can do that, we create moments in which real healing is available. If we can speak our story and know that others hear it, we are somehow healed by that.“
And taking the time to be present and listen deeply enables people to move closer to each other.
Deep listening is a gift you can give others. It’s a gift that can strengthen your relationships since it requires you to suspend judgement and develop a connection to the other person.
Kay Lindahl, founder of The Listening Center and author of Practicing the Sacred Art of Listening: A Guide to Enrich Your Relationships and Kindle Your Spiritual Life, shares this list of the Top Ten Powerful Listening Practices.
- Stop talking.
One person speaks at a time. One of the most irritating listening habits is that of interrupting.
- Pause before speaking.
Allow the person who is speaking time to complete their thought, wait a few seconds before responding. Another variation on this is to ask, “Is there anything else?” There almost always is.
- Listen to yourself.
Be in touch with your inner voice. Ask yourself, “What wants to be said next?”
- Listen for understanding.
You do not have to agree with what you hear, or even believe it, to listen to understand the other person.
- Ask for clarification.
If you do not understand what someone is saying, just ask.
- Let the speaker know that you have heard them.
Body language: nodding, facial expressions.
- Be patient and present.
Listening well takes time and your presence.
- Listen with an open mind.
Be curious and appreciative of what you are listening to. Listen for new ideas instead of judging and evaluating.
- Pay attention to the environment.
Stop what you are doing to listen. Turn off background noise when possible; move to a quieter corner of the room; clear your desk.
- Listen with empathy and compassion.
Put your agenda aside for the moment. Put yourself in their shoes.
Or, if you forget the 10 points listed above, Romila “Dr. Romie” Mushtaq, M.D. ABIHM, a traditionally trained neurologist with additional board certification in integrative medicine, suggests reciting this mantra before you enter a conversation, “I graciously listen.”
Then, stop, breathe, give your complete attention and listen graciously.