Give and get more love by being a better listener.
Many years ago, I read a study in which people from different walks of life were asked, "What is the most profound way you feel loved?"
The number one response was, "When someone is really listening to me."
When we genuinely listen to someone, it gives them the feeling that they really matter to us. They are worth listening to. Their thoughts and feelings are important to us, and this feels good to them.
Most of us overestimate our ability to deeply listen. Instead of deeply listening, we often offer help and solutions when someone is telling us their troubles. We speak up too quickly, saying something harsh or insensitive or possibly even, self-promoting.
Later, we may feel like we talked too much and listened too little, or that we were too aggressive in our well-intentioned advice.
It’s unlikely that we walk away from conversations chastising ourselves for "listening too much" Often, we may regret that we interrupted the other person to interject our opinion or to let them know that we, too, have experienced what they’re experiencing.
It’s common to plan what we’re going to say next in response when we are really meant to be listening. What we call "listening" then becomes nothing more than our chance to plan a witty retort or "helpful response".
It isn’t hopeless. There are practices we can follow to build our skills at being a more giving (and therefore more loving) listener.
1. Ask your loved ones to rate your listening skills.
Solicit suggestions. Perhaps agree on a cue system for when they feel we’re drifting into half-listening. We can encourage them to pause and say, "Are you listening?" when they feel we’re zoning out or being distracted.
2. Talk less.
Take a breath. Practice not interrupting by tuning into the words and the silence that follows. Notice if the person we’re speaking with is losing focus and drifting into distraction while we’re speaking.
That can be a signal that we’re talking too much. Again, take a deep breath and pause. See what arises in the silence.
3. Make eye contact.
Listen to more than just the words being said. Watch the people’s expressions and peer into their soul. In so doing, we offer another opportunity for others to feel loved.
4. Pay attention.
Sounds simple, doesn’t it? We tend to pay attention to what we’re thinking instead of what the other person is saying. We’ve got our comeback planned even before they utter their last syllable.
The message we’re sending is that what we have to say is more important than what they’re thinking and feeling. So, let’s forget the witty retorts.
Instead, absorb everything that’s said without jumping ahead. This is not easy and takes effort and practice, but it’s worth it. Our attention to loved ones builds an emotional bank account that will pay back dividends in our closeness.
5. Select one point of conversation.
We’d like to know more about and say, "Tell me more." Even if we think we already understand everything the other person has said. Saying "Tell me more" invites a deeper level of sharing and intimacy.
6. Never betray a confidence.
Nothing ruins intimacy as fast as having someone lose trust in our ability to keep our word.
As we practice the skills that make us better listeners for others, we ourselves hear more deeply. We tune in more and become more intuitive about others’ feelings and motivations.
Paying attention in the moment is an ancient practice that allows us to be more centered and peaceful, which in turn makes us better partners, better parents, and better colleagues. It’s a highly valuable skill that’s always worth practicing.