“The first duty of love is to listen.”—Paul Tillich
How engaged are you in all your relationships? Are you present? I don’t mean physically present since that is a given. I’m talking about being mentally, emotionally and spiritually invested in the relationship.
To be devoted means enduring the difficult periods if the relationship runs into rough waters. I’m characterising relationships here as all forms of human connections, whether it be intimate, friends, family, etc. By being engaged and present in our relationships, we bring our entire self to our encounters with others. To put it another way, in my experience coaching clients, many of them complain about others being ineffective listeners. Have you noticed this? They listen with the intent to chime in once the other person is finished. They are not actively taking part in the communication which is evident in their body language. Think about this for a moment. Do you consider yourself to be a good listener? Do you listen intently to what others are saying or do you skim over the surface of their words?
Skimming over the surface of what others are saying shows up in our body language, which the speaker can pick up on. It is why listening requires being silent until the other person finishes their dialogue. You might even ask them: “Is there anything else you want to tell me about this situation?” In this manner, you create an open dialogue instead of pretending you are interested. For example, there’s a family member who continually interrupts me by asking questions while I am explaining a story. I find it disconcerting because if they actively listen to what I’m saying, I will explain the details of the entire story. If I have not explained myself well enough, they are at right to ask questions once I have finished. Do you agree with these sentiments? What is your experience with poor listeners?
Bring Your Authentic Self To Each Interaction
“The best and most beautiful things in this world cannot be seen or even heard—they must be felt with the heart.”—Helen Keller
Here’s an interesting idea to consider: listening is only one facet of how we engage in our relationships. Other ways include: being compassionate, fostering kindness and creating an atmosphere of presence with the other person. So if your significant other comes home and tells you about their problems at work, rather than try to offer them ways to fix their problem, try to listen without prejudice. Listen with an open mind and a compassionate heart, knowing they are coming to you because they feel safe sharing their vulnerabilities.
Unless they ask for help, see if you can actively listen and give them the gift of your presence. Sure, we want to fix the other person’s problem because we see they are distressed but often our advice may be unqualified or unnecessary. The best response can be empathy, presence and non-judgement. Have you experienced this where you wanted your partner to just listen to you? Sometimes it’s difficult and we retaliate in anger because we don’t want someone to fix our problems, we just want to be heard.
After all, who said relationships were easy? They are not meant to be easy, however they are worth it even when the other person pushes us because it forces us to look into ourselves during those conflicts. The importance of being engaged and present within our relationships means fostering true communication. We let go of judgement and fixed ideas of what we think the other person is really saying.
Similarly, when we actively listen, there’s an opportunity to heal our childhood wounds when because we allow our ego to take a back seat. The ego wants to be heard while the heart prefers to listen. This is why listening is difficult because it involves silent and thoughtful reflection while the other person is talking. Allow me to offer you this idea: not all problems need to be solved. When we try to solve other people’s problems, we take away their ability to overcome their challenges. We disempower them and strip them of their identity. What we ought to do is listen and ask encouraging questions so they arrive at the answers themselves.
Are you getting the sense that being engaged and present in your relationships involves more than your physical presence? It means bringing your authentic self to each interaction and letting go of judgement, blame and anger. I’m not suggesting it is simple, but if we consider why we are in the relationship in the first place, we can learn to truly connect with our core feelings. With this in mind, I’d like you to pick a relationship you feel is strained at the moment. It might be a co-worker, a friend, a family member or a significant other. In the next seven days, make an agreement with yourself to actively listen to what the other person is saying.
Listen with the intent of connecting with their words and emotions instead of skimming over the surface of the communication. Try to get a sense of what they want you to know about the situation. Are they afraid? Do they feel vulnerable? Or angry? If so, perhaps they need unconditional love? Are you willing to give it to them without saying a word? Maybe they want you to see them through the eyes of love, even when they experience negative emotions. The real test comes when we are engaged and present in all our relationships without the need to say a lot.