When I initially started practicing deep listening, it was so I could be a better therapist. Little did I know it would help me so much more. So while my earlier article on deep listening focussed on how to listen to others, I update it now, with the best part – listening to oneself. Also with step-wise exercise to make it easier to practice.
Meditation is too commonly described as something to ‘do’. You create a quiet, sacred space, and hopefully spend a few minutes in silence and observation everyday. If you were in a noisy, crowded place, do you think it would still be possible to meditate? Yes, it would be.
Meditation is not about external silence, but internal silence. And that is what deep listening is all about – about meditating during communication.
Our lack of peace is seldom due to external noise. So much of the peace-eroding noise is completely internal, and this noise becomes glaringly evident in conversations. When someone is talking, do we ever really listen? We are half processing the information received, rapidly creating a response in our mind, waiting for an opportunity to interrupt the other person and voice our opinion.
An adult has an average attention span of about 22 seconds. Immediately after listening to someone talk, we usually recall only about half of what we’ve heard; within a few hours, only about 20 percent. We talk so much, but we never really listen! Conversations involve so much inner noise, which is why the state is completely opposite to the silence meditation requires.
Anybody who has been serious about being a good communicator, knows about what is called ‘full listening’. Full listening involves paying full attention to what the other person is saying. It involves giving the other person a chance to express himself fully, interrupting only to get a better understanding of what is being said. It may involve the listener summarizing at the end to check if he has understood properly. This kind of listening ensures a proper, healthy two-way communication where both parties can express their concerns and resolve an issue.
Deep listening takes this a couple of steps further. Initially, not only does it focus on the other person through the ears and the mind, but also by absorbing information in other subconscious ways. For example, your subconscious mind might pick up subtle changes in body language and help you understand what the person is really feeling versus what he is expressing.
One is able to listen without any distractions, interpretations, judgments, conclusions, or assumptions – merely an open, curious mind. Deep listening attempts to understand not just the message, but the person behind the words. Further practice of deep listening helps you understand your own feelings and responses to the other person’s views, thereby helping you regulate your behaviour and understand yourself better.
We cannot fix something we do not understand. As long as we are alien to what is really going on inside our own minds, it is very hard to fix it. Deep listening brings you in touch with your suppressed and hidden feelings and helps you sort yourself out.
Deep listening is a very powerful process not only for the listener but also for person who is being listened to. When we are centered and our mind is quiet, it allows us to read between the lines, to observe the choice of words, the body language, and most importantly, the emotion behind the words. We are not concerned about our opinions or views, but interested in understanding exactly what the other person is feeling. Deep listening involves a state so calm, that it is actually therapeutic to the person venting his or her feelings.
How do I practice this?
To make it easy, I recommend a step by step approach.
Step 1: 3-4 days
Practice not interrupting people. Most of us think we don’t interrupt people, but that is because we never notice it when we do. Ask people around you to point out if you interrupt them, and you’ll see how often you do it. When people are talking, let them finish before you voice your views.
Especially in the beginning, it would be a good idea to remind yourself to listen deeply before the start of a conversation. We could do this by asking the other person to sit down, or asking if we could get a cup of tea or coffee before starting to listen. As you wait for the coffee to fill up, or as you sit down, take a deep breath and focus on calming down. Bring your focus to your heart, and feel the silence.
Step 2: 7-8 days
Practice listening calmly with your full attention. Most conversations are not so significant and most of what we want to say isn’t really that important that it cannot be forgotten. When thoughts crop up, allow them to fade away, without creating a response in your head. If you are able to sense any feeling as the person talks, you might want to verify it with the other person, for example, by asking ‘Does that make you angry?’ Remove any judgments or conclusions that crop up in your mind and bring your focus back to your heart again. In the same coin, do not give any advice until the very end.
In the initial stages we tend to have views we want to express, and worry that we might forget them by the time the other is done talking. But if what you want to say is really relavant, you will remember it again. Let your thoughts fade away, and focus completely on the other person.
Step 3: Deep Listening
Deep listening does not only involve listening to others. It allows you to listen to yourself too, and to life in general. When the other talks, be completely aware of what you are feeling. Not only listen to them, but also be aware of what is going on inside you as the other person speaks.
Deep listening doesn’t stop merely at words, but extends to your thoughts. Even when you are thinking, ask yourself – what am I really feeling. When you find yourself getting frustrated for example, try focusing on what you are feeling, and not on what the other person is doing. This will increase your understanding of yourself, apart from helping you resolve your emotion faster.
For example, assume you are having a conversation with your friend about difficulties at his work. When he describes his situation, you find that you are very tempted to jump and offer advice. However, because of your previous practice of full listening, you curb this desire. At this point, stop and ask yourself – why do I feel the need to offer this advice? Maybe you will discover that you are uncomfortable with the idea of dealing with this situation yourself, and want to offer some advice so that your friend stops talking about it. This might help you discover some fears, which you can choose to work on later, again asking yourself what are you really afraid of, and then taking it deeper.
It also helps to keep a diary where you just write down your feelings. Not the events of the day, but what you feel. Mentally scan the day for any intense emotions, close your eyes and dwell on it for a while, feeling the emotion deeply, and then write about it, asking every few moments what you are really feeling. Write as you think. This method is really useful in resolving intense emotions quickly.