The Art of Listening
I have mentioned in several posts recently that I am enrolled into a program called Audire. This is a three year program which will give me certification as a spiritual director. In the context of the Audire program, spiritual direction is intended as a “being a companion” to someone as they explore where they are at in their relationship to whatever God they believe in. Or, if the person does not yet believe in God, walking with them as they explore what this may mean for them and allow them a safe place to explore the possibility of a spiritual life.
One of the skills that is considered to be of prime importance in this training is the art of listening. As I worked and trained with the CREDO retreat process in the US Navy between the years of 1984 to 2003, the skill of listening was also considered to be the most important skill that we needed to cultivate. Most of the yearly training weekends that I spent with CREDO were focused on activities that helped us to hone this particular skill.
On my refrigerator door at home I have a quotation held in place with a magnet that says something like: “The greatest gift we can offer another is the gift of rapt attention.” I’m away from home right now so cannot verify the exact wording nor do I remember the author of the quotation. Just a few days ago, in one of my morning reflections, I read the following quotation by Dr. Joyce Brothers: “Listening, not imitation, may be the sincerest form of flattery.”
Going back to the first quotation, I checked out the dictionary meaning of the word “rapt”. This is what I found:
– completely engrossed: involved in, fascinated by, or concentrating on something to the exclusion of everything else.
– deeply engrossed or absorbed
– blissfully happy: showing or suggesting deep emotions
– transported with emotion
I think the first two definitions are probably the most significant with regards the skill of listening to another, although showing that I am “blissfully happy” or “transported with emotion” as I listen to another in a totally focused way is not so bad either! It would certainly get across the message to them that I am paying complete attention to them and what they are saying.
Listening is just one component of the whole skill of good communication. It is said that when we are communicating with another person several messages are being given and received:
– the message of the words that we are actually saying
– the message that we think we are conveying with the words that we are saying
– the message that the other person hears from the words that we are saying
– the message that the other person then “decodes” from the words that we are saying
– the message that the other person sends back to us in response to the words we are saying
– the message that the other person thinks he has conveyed with the words he has said
– the message that we hear in the words from the other person
– the message that we think we understood (decoded) from the words the other person said.
There may be a few more variables going on at the time which could depend on the parties’ humor, body language, level of distraction, and others!! Is it any wonder that “bad communication” is probably the single most contributing factor to broken relations on the intimate level and wars on the international level?
So, in order to be a “good” listener I need to come to the table in a very specific way in order to offer that “rapt attention” to the other person. Here are some of the tools that I have learned, and continue to hear impressed, in order to be a good listener.
– Look directly at the speaker
– make sure body posture is open and inviting
– clear the mind of other thoughts
– avoid external distractions
– suspend internal judgment
– don’t be mentally preparing a response
– acknowledge that you are hearing by nodding the head or saying “uh huh” from time to time
When the other person stops speaking:
– wait for a few moments and then check with them that they have said all they wanted/needed to say for the moment
– if you are confused about something they said, ask for clarification
– reflect back, summarize what they have said to show them that you have truly been listening
– only then offer honest feedback, being respectful of the other and stating clearly that these are your thoughts and/or feelings in response to what you have
As can be seen, it is not easy to be a “rapt listener” but with a little thought and some willingness to get out of self, we can become the skillful listener that is needed in true communication with another.