01 Feb The Art of Listening
An excerpt from How to Create a Magical Relationship,
The Three Simple Ideas That Will
Instantaneously Transform Your Love Life
We teach courses all over the world and have discovered that whatever the culture, whatever the language, people often don’t really, truly listen. Listening is often perceived as a passive act. The two of us have discovered that when ‘true listening’ is present, satisfying communication is sure to follow. This chapter is devoted to the art of listening. If you discover those things that keep you from listening, you will simultaneously discover many of the things that get in your way in relationships and in day–to–day interactions. If you learn the art of listening, you will become more effective, productive and satisfied in all aspects of your life.
True listening is not something that we have been taught growing up in our families, amongst our friends or in school. True listening requires being in the moment. It also requires letting go of your point of view, your thoughts and your agendas. True listening is an art.
Have you ever examined whether or not you are truly listening? Have you identified what inhibits your ability to actually hear what another is saying with the intention of seeing what he or she means from his or her point of view? What we are talking about here is a self–education program.
First you must have the desire to discover how you listen and how you interact with your life from a non–judgmental point of view. It is not about trying to change or fix what you notice in the selfexamination of your own behavioral patterns. If you just notice how you are relating to your life, that in itself is enough to complete previously disturbing patterns of behavior. Frequently, there are no other actions needed. This also applies to the way in which you listen, don’t listen or distract yourself from listening.
If a person doesn’t feel heard, then frustration builds and misunderstandings are sure to happen. It requires a degree of openness, however, to actually hear what is being said. There are impediments to truly listening to your partner. People frequently are not open to hear simply because they are already involved in a thought or action. We as human beings can only do one thing at a time, if we expect to do it well. Making sure you have your partner’s attention is the best way to start when you are saying something of importance.
TRUE COMMUNICATION REQUIRES
LISTENING TO HEAR WHAT IS BEING SAID
FROM THE POINT OF VIEW OF THE SPEAKER.
THIS IS AN INTENTIONAL UNDERSTANDING
OF THE OTHER’S POINT OF VIEW.
If your partner says, “I really enjoy taking cold showers,” and you think this point of view is stupid, you will disagree and comment in your head rather than just hear what he or she is saying from his or her point of view. Often, many of us are so fearful of being manipulated into doing something we don’t want to do, that we resist hearing for fear that it will be another request put upon us that we don’t want to fulfill.
PRE–OCCUPATION WITH A PROBLEM
If you are pre–occupied with a thought or something you consider problematic, then you can’t listen because your mind can only hold one thing at a time. If you are worrying about something, then you won’t hear what is being said to you.
The two of us were speaking on the telephone with a friend of ours, Serela. As we spoke, the conversation got more confusing and stilted while she kept talking faster to answer questions we hadn’t even asked. Things became rushed, jumbled and frustrating. This was a strange phone call. We wondered what had happened to make Serela, who just the day before had been calm and centered, so distracted and jumpy. We asked some questions in an attempt to solve the puzzling turn of events.
First, we inquired if Serela was sure it was a good time to talk because she seemed rushed. She assured us there was nothing pressing in her schedule, there was plenty of time to chat. So we said she seemed pre–occupied and asked if something had happened in the last day that had upset her. Serela got quiet for a moment and then told us that in the middle of the night, her exboyfriend had called. After telling her how mean she was and how much she had hurt him and how sad he was because they had broken up, he had hung up on her. All morning, Serela had been talking with him in her mind, telling him all the things she didn’t have a chance to say. She was arguing with him mentally as she tried to reassure herself she wasn’t really a mean person.
When Serela spoke with us, it was hard for her to really talk and listen because she was already involved in the ongoing conversation in her thoughts. When she simply saw that the phone call from her ex had knocked her off balance, she was restored to herself and suddenly our communications were clear again.
Most of us are unaware when we are actually doing something other than listening. We haven’t realized that we are pre–engaged or pre–occupied so that we only partially hear what is being said and that partial hearing is almost always inaccurate.
Have you ever noticed how some people say the same things to you over and over? That is generally because you didn’t really hear them the first time. Since true listening is an active rather than a passive act, it requires your full attention. If you are at all preoccupied while listening to another, they are left with the feeling that they have not been heard. Which is, in fact, true. How could a baseball player catch a ball if they already have a baseball in their mitt? This is essentially what you are trying to do if you are pre–occupied while listening to another. It is as if you are trying to catch a communication while your ‘mitt’ is already full.
FILLING IN THE BLANKS
As we discussed in earlier chapters, our minds are like computers and they can only operate with what they already know. So, for instance, if you hear a word that you don’t already have in your mental data bank, you are likely to fill in the blank with one your logic system assumes is the same or a reasonable facsimile.
Here is an example of how it works:
When we first moved to our home, we were unfamiliar with the area but soon found that one of the towns near where we live is called Flemington. After we moved in, our friend and real estate broker, Nina, was promoted to a managerial position in a new real estate office in Flemington – or so we thought. For weeks we drove by her new location and scanned the parking lot, looking for her car. It seemed as though she was never there. Finally, we called her and said, “We tried to come by and see you today but you were out. Boy, you must be busy, we keep driving by and your car is never in the lot.”
She replied, “What do you mean? I was in all day today.”
So we asked if she had a new car, but no, that wasn’t the answer. It seems we had misheard when Nina told us she had been promoted. She didn’t actually work in Flemington at all. She managed the office in Pennington. Having never heard of Pennington, our minds just filled in the blank.
FILLING IN WITH WHAT YOU EXPECT
When you are in a relationship with someone, after a period of time, you believe that you know this person and that you already know what he or she is going to say. When the first few words come out, you assume you know where it is going. So, in your mind, you fill in the blanks with what you expect to hear and stop listening to what your partner is actually saying. You may be right, most of the time. But there are times when your partner is about to say something else and you are not receptive because you already have the ball in your mitt. Or you may not even hear what is being said because you think you know it already and have already moved on in your thoughts. If so, chances are your partner will feel disregarded.
PROVING YOURSELF RIGHT
At this point, we must talk again about the principles of physics, also the second principle of transformation that says: No two things can occupy the same space at the same time. If your mind is already pre–occupied with what you are intending to say when you get your chance, then there is no possibility that you can actually hear what is being said to you. And that is on the most basic level. If you are defending your point of view, then you won’t want to hear what is being said, as in Roger’s example of wanting to be paid his 6% right away. When you are defending yourself, your mind will manipulate what is being said so that you can disagree, prove it wrong and prove yourself, or your point of view, right.
Have you ever found yourself finding fault with your partner’s use of words or a particular word, rather than allowing yourself to hear the essence of what he or she is saying? Frequently, when people engage in conversation, they are trying to prove that what they believe to be true is true. And so, when we listen to another, we are still holding onto our point of view.
IF YOU DROP WHAT YOU WANT TO SAY AND LISTEN,
WHEN YOU DO RESPOND,
YOU MIGHT DISCOVER SOMETHING
WHOLLY NEW AND MORE APPROPRIATE TO SAY
THAN WHAT YOU HAD PLANNED.
IF WHAT YOU INITIALLY HAD TO SAY IS STILL RELEVANT,
IT WILL COME BACK ON ITS OWN.
HOW YOU LISTEN HAS BEEN CULTURALLY INFLUENCED
One day, while walking down the street on the Italian Riviera we saw a three or four–year–old girl having a conversation with her father. What impressed us was most was how she expressed herself with her hands. The cultural way of gesturing in that region is to wave one’s hand emphatically as an extension of the words. The girl demonstrated a small version of the gestures going on all around her. She didn’t think to learn this way of communicating, it was absorbed along with the culture.
You have also absorbed culturally–influenced ways of relating, which include not wanting to appear stupid, being right, and trying to look good. These ways of relating have become filters through which you listen. So listening is not simply an act of hearing what another has to say. Each communication goes through a quick check to see how it might affect our agenda to get ahead, be smart or look good.
LISTENING WITH AN AGENDA
A major inhibitor to listening is one’s agenda. Wanting something when you talk with another person is not a problem, if you are aware of it. For instance, as a sales person, if you get paid a commission for what you sell, obviously you have a preference that potential customers will purchase something. However, if you push to meet your agenda rather than paying attention to your customers’ needs, you are sure to turn people off and lose sales. In effect, going for your agenda often produces the opposite of the desired result.
People are often much more interested in not appearing stupid than they are in actually listening – as if it would be so bad not to know something. It doesn’t matter what another person is saying to them, above all else, they can’t look stupid so they are constantly trying to figure out how to respond.
Please don’t misunderstand. There is nothing wrong with having an agenda. If you want a better relationship or more intimacy, for example, that is not a problem. The problem arises when you are unaware of your agendas and you are mechanically driven to fulfill them. If you are aware of the things you want (or don’t want) then you can hold these preferences in abeyance and actively listen to what your partner has to say.
BREATHING REALLY HELPS
Sometimes you just have to take a nice deep breath and tell yourself that what your partner has to say isn’t going to hurt. It helps to take a deep breath, relax a little bit and listen without defending yourself. The ability to listen without defending is a very powerful tool but it takes self–discipline to allow yourself to actually hear what another is saying without protecting yourself or proving your point of view right.
COMPASSION – COMPASSION – COMPASSION
If your partner is telling you about something you did or didn’t do that upset him or her, if you realize that you couldn’t have done it any differently than you did, it is possible for you to have compassion for yourself. And when we say compassion for yourself we are talking about a state of grace, of forgiveness. Most of us have the mistaken opinion that we could have lived our lives differently than we did, but if you look back, you will see that everything you did in your life has led you to this point, brought you to where you are now. Though you may think in retrospect that you could have done things another way, when you were actually living through those circumstances, you only did what you could do at the time. You couldn’t have done it any differently in reality. Perhaps, ideally, you would have done things other than the way you did, but again, that is in retrospect.
To make this point clearer, let’s go back to the camera analogy we made earlier. If we were to take a picture of you with a camera and you were sitting down and smiling, could you have in that very same instant of the camera’s shutter opening and closing, been standing and frowning? Of course not. Well, two seconds before we took the picture, could you have been different than you were in that moment? The only answer we can come up with is no. Using this camera analogy, if you tease it back in time, you can see how everything that has happened in your life could only have happened the way it did and not the way you think it ought to have happened. This opens the door for the possibility for compassion; compassion for yourself and for others.
In philosophy, there is the concept of determinism vs. free will. By determinism, philosophers mean that your life is predetermined and you really don’t have a choice in the way things are. Free will implies that you have total choice in the way things are. What we are saying is that you have no choice in the way things were. You may have the idea that the way things were should have, or could have, been different, but the reality is that you have no choice. Things were the way they were. You may have a choice in how things turn out in the future, but the past is already written and you couldn’t have done anything differently than the way you did.
The only thing useful in thinking you could have done things differently is if you want to use the past to torment yourself. We have found that tormenting yourself does not produce great relationships so we suggest that you don’t do this.
REINTERPRETING THE PAST
Even if you accept our premise that ‘what is done is done,’ the past is still open for interpretation. This is where many torment themselves, thereby fettering their abilities to create magical relationships. We would like to offer a story to illustrate another possibility:
There once was an old man who lived in a kingdom and while he was otherwise poor, he was the owner of a magnificent white stallion. One day the King of the land rode through the old man’s tiny village and spied the exquisite horse. Being an honorable King, he offered the old man a fortune to purchase such a gallant steed.
The old man thought about the King’s handsome proposal and said, “Thank you, Sire, for your generous offer, but I would rather keep my horse.”
After the King departed, the villagers surrounded the old man. “Old Man,” they said, “what a stupid thing to do. You could have been wealthy beyond your wildest imagination if you had accepted the King’s offer!”
To this the old man replied, “Stupid, smart, I don’t know. All I know is I still have my horse.”
A week or so later, the white horse broke out of his corral and ran off during the night. The villagers were quick to comment, “Old Man, what a horrible turn of events. Now you have no horse and no wealth either!”
To this the old man replied, “Horrible, wonderful, I don’t know. All I know is my stallion is gone.”
One week passed and the stallion returned, leading a whole herd of wild mares with him. The villagers assembled outside of the old man’s corral to admire the mares. “Old Man!” they exclaimed. “What wonderful good fortune. Not only do you have your valuable stallion back but you have the great luck of having a whole herd of mares too!”
Cocking his head, the old man surveyed the stallion and his new mares and replied, “Wonderful, horrible, great luck, bad luck, I don’t know. All I know is I have my stallion back and the mares are here, too.”
A week later, while trying to break one of the new mares, the old man’s only son was bucked off and badly broke both of his legs.
The villagers were quick to share their opinions. “Old Man,” they said, shaking their heads sadly, “what an unfortunate accident. How horrible. If only you had sold the horse then your son would not have broken his legs. Now who will take care of you in your old age?”
The old man replied, “Unfortunate, fortunate, horrible or not, I don’t know. All I know is that my son’s legs are broken.”
A week or two later, the kingdom went to war against a foe with a much stronger army. All of the able–bodied young men were conscripted into the army from which they would almost certainly not return . . .
And so the story goes. You can reinterpret any event in your life to fit your current outlook or agenda. The truth is what happened has happened, and if you see it and let it be, then you can get on with your life. What? you might say. Don’t I need to make myself remember and punish myself for wrong doings so that I will never do them again? No, you don’t. If you see something you did or said in error, and actually see it without judging yourself, then you have already learned your lesson. Punishing yourself and feeling badly does not help. If you have truly seen the error of your ways, you never have to repeat them.
THREE GOLDEN WORDS – I AM SORRY
It doesn’t matter how well you communicate, how sensitive you are, how in love and perfectly matched you are with your partner, sooner or later you will do something that blows it. When that happens, there is actually a magic wand that can dissolve the hurt and restore your relationship. As mentioned in the earlier chapter on sex and intimacy, truly apologizing can mend a world of hurts. There are some tricks to having it work and also ways of insuring that when you do apologize, it will not inflame the situation more. Here they are:
If you say you are sorry, really mean it. There is nothing more maddening than having someone say they are sorry just to placate you when they really still think their actions were right. Here is an example. Try saying these words and see which would feel better to hear: “I am sorry if I hurt your feelings,” or “I am sorry for hurting your feelings.”
If your partner sincerely apologizes you must be prepared to accept it. By the time he or she finally ‘admits’ the wrongdoing, you may have a backlog of examples of how he or she did the same thing on other occasions. Rubbing a person’s nose in it will only reignite the fight and certainly will not make it easy in the future for your partner to apologize again. If you are punished for being truthful, you are much less likely to be honest in the future.
It may be true, in a bigger sense, that what you do does not hurt, disturb or upset your partner, but on a day–to–day level, there is plenty you can do that can have damaging effects. Saying you are sorry, and meaning it, only hurts your ego, but it can rebuild the bridge between you and another. Then you can experience being in love long after the rose of the first attraction blooms and fades.