Knowing the difference between hearing and listening can help you achieve a stronger relationship.
Some say the month of April acquired its name from the Greek goddess of love, Aphrodite. Other etymologists argue that the word April comes from the Latin aperire, meaning "to open." I like that idea a lot. Spring is about the opening of buds, opening of windows and opening of hearts. And how about an openness to new ideas or new ways of doing things?
I'd like to suggest we start with the way we communicate. I bet if I asked you to rate yourself, you'd tell me you're a pretty good communicator—a solid four out of five. But are you? Well, let's find out. Do you spend at least as much time listening as you do talking? Do you avoid interrupting so the person you're speaking with isn't rushed? Do you ask questions and offer encouragement so the person you're with knows you're truly plugged in?
The metric we use most often to measure communication is how well we choose our words, but that's only half of it. If you really want to open up new channels, pay equal attention to how well you listen. Have you ever found yourself yelling at your child or partner or sibling, "You aren't listening to me!" The withering look they give you in response says, "Oh, I hear you just fine." But hearing and listening are very different. Hearing requires ears; listening requires understanding. And if you really felt understood, you probably wouldn't have been yelling.
Dr. Daniel J. Siegel, founding codirector of the Mindful Awareness Research Center at the University of California, Los Angeles, came up with what I think is the best definition of empathy: the feeling of being felt. I don't know any way someone can feel felt—really understood—without being listened to. Listening is a critical component of compassionate relating. You want to take your relationships to new heights? You want to see them truly blossom? Learn to be a good listener. Making a person feel understood is the surest way to transform communication and deepen intimacy. And it's not that hard.
First, speak less. Let the person you're conversing with have the floor, take his or her time to form thoughts, feel feelings and find words. Discipline yourself to practise restraint in the art of conversation. Learn to park your thoughts in short-term memory rather than interrupt; your time will come.
Then, listen with your whole body, not just your ears. You'd be amazed how people open up when we lean in, make eye contact, use our faces to mirror the emotion we're seeing on the other person's face. Ask questions to ensure that you understand fully and correctly and to encourage your friend or loved one to say more. Pay attention not only to the words but also to the more nuanced meanings expressed in body language.
And please turn off your phone. You think I'm being a smart-alec, but I mean it. About half of the couples I see in counselling are there because one of them feels usurped by the other's relationship with the phone. Artful listening involves hearing, feeling and full attention.
MANTRA OF THE MONTH
"I will resist the urge to check for texts while people are talking to me."