Inner Peace Podcast #4: Loving others means listening to them

Some quotes about good listening:

“The art of conversation is the art of hearing as well as of being heard.” ― William Hazlitt

Notice how he says “hearing” rather than “talking.” I think this quote goes hand-in-hand with the next one:

“The most basic of all human needs is the need to understand and be understood. The best way to understand people is to listen to them.” ― Ralph G. Nichols

“Listen with curiosity. Speak with honesty. Act with integrity. The greatest problem with communication is we don’t listen to understand. We listen to reply. When we listen with curiosity, we don’t listen with the intent to reply. We listen for what’s behind the words.” ― Roy T. Bennett

First, let me re-specify that loving others creates happiness and peace for ourselves. So, we should do it. It’s in the best interest of all for us to love each other.

I’ve been getting more and more active in different social arenas than in the past. Politics, religion, race, equality…issues that impact people’s lives in a big way. There’s a major problem I’m noticing. Again and again this attitude seems to pop up that everyone wants to speak and have everyone else agree and jump on the bandwagon. When someone doesn’t agree or see things from the same perspective, rather than creating meaningful dialogue with each other it becomes a massive stand-off with each side squaring off like bulls pawing the dirt and hooves pawing the dirt. Everyone wants to be right. Everyone wants to be “on top” of the argument.

It gets so bad that many times I have noticed people arguing with each other when they share the same viewpoint. They’re arguing against each other when they actually agree. And yes, some of those people have been me trying to explain — we’re on the same side of the coin here, while the other side continues to argue. It’s madness!

So I would like to touch on this topic of listening — truly listening to each other so all are heard. The problem of not listening is that we for


Listening means hearing. I’ve heard it described both ways (“listening means hearing…hearing means listening”). Semantics aside, really listening to a person means hearing their intent, not just their words. Listen to the spirit of their message even if they may not be able to express themselves clearly. Sometimes what a person means is actually in the space between the words they use, or the intent behind what they say. Kind of like when my parents would yell at us when we got hurt. We would get scolded and sometimes punished, but what they were really trying to say was, “I love you and I don’t want you to get hurt.” So while it is true that people could use better words to express themselves, sometimes being a good listener means listening for the true meaning.

Listening means letting your guard down. What they’re saying is not about you. It’s about them. Even if it is negatively directed about you, it is really them reflecting their own perspective. Their experience in life. Turn off the urge to shut others down because of what they say. Other people’s talking experience can be a great learning experience for you to understand more about this world and the people in it, and the individual talking. Realizing it’s not about you allows you to let your guard down. You don’t really have to be defensive.

When everyone is talking to be heard, who is listening? I used the imagery of bulls in a standoff earlier, but another image that comes to my mind is a medieval castle wall with archers and soldiers throwing their stones, sling their arrows and hiding behind the crenellations between volleys. No one is being heard and so no progress is being made. The solution is to come down from our turrets and take off our armor. Listening is the key to being heard, for when we let down our guard others are more likely to do the same.

Give people the benefit of the doubt. Remember that what you are hearing and what they are saying are never the same thing! Ever! Words are a massively ineffective means of communication. We may be speaking the same language, but everyone has their own dictionary.

My favorite exercise for this is to have you close your eyes. Now I’m going to say a word and I want you to visualize the object in your mind. Are you ready? The word is: “Tree.” Okay, what did you see in your head? Was it a maple tree? Oak? Palm tree? Evergreen? Was it green leaves in summer time? Fall? If everyone associates the word “tree” differently, just think how differently we associate all the other words. And when you string those words into sentences? It’s truly amazing to me that we are able to communicate as well as we do with words, but there is still improvement to be made.

Giving others the benefit of the doubt means maybe you didn’t hear exactly what they said. Rather than jumping down their throat, try to understand. Ask questions. Reflect back what you heard to see if you got it right.

The act of listening is an act of caring and validating. When you’re just waiting for your next chance to talk, you’re often invalidating that other person. Remember: We’re all on the same side. We are all part of the human family. We all share this planet. We all want to feel safe and loved. And we’re all going about it a different way, and that’s okay. Rather than shutting people down, validate them. Rather than trying to have the upper hand, try to understand. Try to see eye to eye. Stop getting in face-off mode like conversing with others is a contest to be won.

A listening ear has the power to change lives!! Sometimes people just need to hear themselves talk. So often we don’t even know some of the thoughts or beliefs or feelings going on inside until we have the chance to express them out loud. Listening–really listening–is a gift you give others that allows them to get something off their chest, unload a burden, or put the pieces together themselves, PROFOUND HEALING can happen.

Homework Ideas:

Have a listening ear. Practice listening this week. Close your mouth. Turn off your brain chatter. Open your ears, and your heart to truly hear a person. Validate them. How?

  • Shhhhhhhh-sh-sh-sh-sh-sh… Shut up. Zip your lip, AND turn your brain into listening mode. Listening is a receptive act, so not only do you need to turn off your mind chatter, you need to open your ears and mind to receive what the other person is saying. Definitely, *definitely* don’t cut the other person off while they are talking.
  • Be okay with not knowing. It’s instinctive to feel threatened when we don’t know something. It’s even worse when we’re just plain wrong about something. But listening to someone isn’t about being right or wrong, it’s about understanding and trying to understand. So do that.
  • Find the common ground. Pay more attention to how you can relate than how you’re different.
  • Ask questions. Don’t be concerned about responding. Use questions as a means of discovery. Create a safe space for that person to share their answers without being judged or disparaged.
  • Mirror back their language. Mirror back what someone says to you to make sure you understood correctly. Remember that a tree isn’t just a tree. It could be a palm tree or a pine tree. Gain clarification by “comparing notes” verbally. Rather than saying, “You said…” say, “I heard you say…”

Quotes to leave you with:

“Listening is being able to be changed by the other person.” –Alan Alda

P.S. I forgot to include the third quote above in the podcast. Oops! 🙂


Photo credit: Joshua Ness

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