When I was a young girl I talked to the wall. Especially the wall in our dining room. The wall listened to me. It didn’t interrupt me or talk over me. I could say anything I wanted to say without fear of being judged, laughed at, or ignored.
There were eight of us kids gathered around the family dinner table every night – all of us talking at once and trying to be heard. Even though I was one of the older kids, my voice is soft and doesn’t tend to carry very far, so I didn’t get much air time around that table. Out of frustration, I turned to talk to the wall.
What Matters The Most
I just wanted what all of us want – to be heard, to know that I mattered, and that what I had to say was valued. Through my training as a coach, one of the most powerful skills I have learned is to listen deeply — on an intuitive level — singularly focused on the speaker. Being listened to at this level is a rare occurrence for most people and has a powerful impact on those fortunate enough to experience it.
My clients tell me that when someone listens to them in this manner, they feel:
• Loved and cared for
• Lighter in their heart and mood
• Like their very soul has been seen and known
• A sense of release – sometimes they just need to vent
• Suddenly more clear about things
• Validated and valued as a person
• Like they’ve been given a rare and uncommon gift
And they all agree that in most of their relationships, it almost never happens.
So, if this is how people feel when someone listens deeply, why is it so rare?
And what would happen in our relationships if we listened to each other like this?
Presence And Engagement In The Moment
I’m talking about listening without thinking of the next thing you want to say, without wondering what’s for dinner or about what happened yesterday, and without giving advice. I’m talking about making eye contact, getting honestly curious about that person, and setting aside all expectations, agendas, and judgments. I’m talking about listening with empathy, being completely present in the moment, and believing that all the answers they need lie within them (i.e. it’s not up to you to fix their problem).
I started trying this out on everyone I knew. I thought that surely if it impacts my clients this powerfully, wouldn’t it also deeply affect my closest relationships? Turns out it does…and it has.
My husband and I are now more open and real with each other than we have ever been (after 26 years of marriage). We know each other at a much deeper soul-level. Why? Because we’re consciously listening to each other.
I connect with my daughter at a “heart level” I never knew was possible. I find that I can safely hold space for her when she falls apart – rather than slipping into my usual panicked-mother state. You know the one — trying to rush in to fix her problems and then becoming frustrated because I can’t! As I listen, she discovers her solutions all by herself.
Providing A Sounding Board
My closest friends tell me that they’ve uncovered amazing insights into their problems, where previously there was only frustration and closed doors, simply because someone listened. It feels like a long-lost treasure shipwrecked at sea has been unearthed in my life. I feel like I have seen their souls. I KNOW them, the people that mean the most to me. And, my yearning to be heard is strangely calmed and satisfied as I have become more and more a person who listens. This has been a profound revelation.
Needless to say, I no longer talk to walls.
Stephen Covey said, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” When you first seek to understand with soul-level listening, being understood naturally seems to happen. A connection is created, allowing all hearts to speak and know that they matter and that they are valued.
Listening at this level does take practice, a good dose of self-awareness, and a deep desire to connect. But it’s so worth it – the rewards far outweigh the effort. Try it out for yourself!
The next time you’re in a conversation, don’t say anything for 90 seconds. While you’re listening, practice staying very present with them in that moment. Dismiss all thoughts about what YOU want to say, and just keep listening. After 90 seconds (just estimate that – I don’t recommend checking your watch!), ask questions from a place of curiosity to learn even more about the person.
Now…Ask Empowering Questions
Finish with a question or two that will lead them to their own solutions, such as:
• What will you do about that?
• What makes that so important to you?
• What do you really want to happen?
Then listen some more. Afterward, take note of what happened. What did you learn about that person? What did you learn about yourself? How did the connection between the two of you feel? What was different?
The more you practice, the more natural it will become for you and the greater impact you will have on the people in your world. And you will have given them one of the rarest gifts of all – being truly seen and heard.
And the bonus? They won’t have to talk to the wall – and neither will you.