The Importance of Deep Listening in a Relationship
8 skills that we can learn from listening to others.
Posted June 15, 2021 | Reviewed by Abigail Fagan
Linda: The ability to listen is of the utmost importance. Listening is a powerfully healing tool in relationships because we all crave to be seen and heard. Many of us have mastered the art of looking like we’re listening when we barely are. When someone is speaking to us, we may be preparing our next response, or else thinking about something totally unrelated. We may even be sitting in judgment of what they are offering. It requires a great deal of self-discipline and patience to become a terrific listener. We want to feel that we are worthy of attention.
If you are in a committed partnership, you know from your own experience that there are times when partners don’t even speak because they are furious, hurt, or feel betrayed. There may be times when they can’t even look at each other. There can be times when the trust is in shreds, accompanied by feelings of despair due to not knowing if the relationship can get out of the dark place where it is stuck.
You don’t have to wait until the relationship has been so broken down that you consider divorce to find that the way out requires the deepest form of listening. We can learn from those in the graduating class ahead of us and take in their wise counsel. It will save us some heartache in our closest relationships and even with those who are only our casual relationships.
Let’s hear from Bill Gault, an old friend and a wise elder in our tribe, who taught me a phrase which he referred to as “High Impact Listening.” Not only does Bill use the process with those he is close to, but with everyone he meets. What the phrase refers to is really being present with a person. It is the process of being in conversation with someone without any agenda to influence them. It is a very pure form of listening.
Hear more about this fine listening technique in Bill's words. “Where I have used it the most, is with people who at first may strike me as really obnoxious. I travel a lot, so I am seated by people on planes, and thrown in with all kinds of people everywhere I go. For instance, I am not a hunter, and I am definitely not into guns. When I meet someone who is into guns, I try my best to show up to listen to their ideas and philosophy. This kind of openness and respect for all the different orientations that people have is serving me in a big way. When I sincerely listen and engage with another person, especially those that are so different from myself, I can begin to understand their philosophy of life. Now, I love to stay with the process long enough, until I find that we are all one.”
Like Bill, many of us have to learn the hard way. For years, Bill had many unpleasant and annoying conversations with people who saw life very differently than he did. Once he matured and appreciated this deep listening process, all of his trips became so much more enjoyable. People didn’t irritate him any longer. He found the people he interfaced with fascinating and his life was expanded and enriched by their conversations.
For many of us, it’s only after a lot of unpleasantness and pulling a damaged relationship out of the muck that we know with utter conviction that it is possible to listen more deeply to each other, and how profoundly healing it is to do so. Then we too can mature as Bill did, to show the type of understanding and acceptance that is required for relationships to thrive. We learn the traits like patience, openness, tolerance, and self-discipline that give rise to a strong and healthy relationship.
Here are some of the things we stand to learn:
- That we are much more alike than we are different
- How to learn from our experiences
- How to not make the same mistake quite so many times
- How to use what the relationship tossed up not to validate our old patterns and belief system, but to learn more effective patterns
- How to move fluidly with change
- To let go of our narrow point of view to appreciate other perspectives
- To understand that we are continually being challenged with developmental changes in our lives because human beings are always changing, and our life circumstances are always changing
- To become more compassionate people
It can be startling to realize that every conversation we have is an opportunity to learn. And every transition we go through has the seeds of opportunity for growth in it. The bigger the challenge, the more seeds for learning. When we learn how to learn from each situation, rather than attempt to avoid problems, we can equip ourselves with the inner resources to handle anything that life brings to us. These rich, in-depth conversations are what prompt us to become more of who we can become. They prompt us to expand. Now isn’t that worth some growing pains?