Listen with Your Heart, Not Your Ears
Listening well is not the ability to focus on what is being said. Listening well is a reflection of our maturity as human beings. Only when we mature our spirits, do we truly hear. And that begins when you listen with your heart, not your ears.
Listening is an issue of the heart.
In my profession as a family doctor, listening to my patients is central to the success of each encounter. I must listen to my patients’ concerns and fears, while I do my best to empathize and feel their pain. I believe that is where the process of healing begins. Why? Because someone cares.
Listening in my relationships, as a leader, is equally as important. So if we aim to become better listeners, we must think about principles of the heart. People can sense how we feel about what they are saying. Do we respect what they are talking about? Do we care about them? They can tell a lot by the way we communicate, by the way we are looking at them, and our body language. While we can control what we say, and maybe to a small extent our body language, we cannot control what our heart is feeling. And those subtle sentiments seep through and are detected by others.
Don’t listen so you can speak.
It has been said that no one would listen to anyone else speak, if he did not know that his turn was next. Could you be willing to listen to someone, genuinely wanting to hear and process what they are saying, if you could only affirm, and speak nothing else in return? Most of us want to chime in and share our opinions, experiences, and persepctives. We listen, but in our minds we are saying, “Come on! Spit it out! I need to tell you my side.” Many times we are cordial enough to listen, only so we can be next to say what we want to share.
Let people finish their thought, not just their sentence.
Good listeners wait for others to stop speaking. Great listeners wait for others to stop thinking. How do you know when someone stops thinking? Pay attention, you will notice. When people think, they usually look intently at the floor, an object next to them, or at us. They appear more focused. If they appear that they are still thinking, then wait, even in silence.
Skilled listeners allow silence to creep in. Not awkward silence, but a particular stillness that allows the speaker to finish his thoughts. They offer the other person space to think, feel, and express themselves.
What can I ask, not what can I answer?
Great listeners ask powerful questions, which aim to uncover the heart of the other person. And naturally, a sensitive listener will make sure they are invited first.
Most people’s natural tendency is to give answers, share wisdom, pontificate and sermonize. Genuine listeners do not do that, unless they are invited to. Listening well is when I am not asking for attention for myself. When you need that kind of affirmation for your own intellect and wisdom, then the conversation becomes about you. Truly listening is about others.
What I can give, not what can I get?
In the same vein, as we listen, we should be thinking and looking for ways to give. What is something the person is saying that gives me an opportunity to give them something I have? Do I know what I have to offer?
I can offer encouragement, support, or material help. My listening takes on a higher purpose when I can ask myself as I listen, “How can I help this person? How can I be generous to this person?”
How can I get to know you, not how can I tell you about me?
One of the best listeners I know is Charlie Rose, a pre-eminent interviewer. When you watch him, he seems genuinely interested in getting to know someone’s thoughts, feelings, and personal life. He wants to know what makes them tick.
When we love someone, we simply want to know them more. We want to know everything about them. When we get to a place where we truly care about a person, then our listening becomes so much better. We start communicating in non-verbal ways how we are feeling internally. Ideally, we are expressing, “I really want to get to know you.”
And we all want to be known.
Don’t give advice.
I love giving advice. I love to analyze and think, and write about how people interact with each other in leadership and in life. And there is a place for that. But it’s not when I am listening. It is not when I am talking with someone. I give advice when I am invited to. I give advice when I am speaking to an audience or writing. Giving someone advice when you are not invited to communicates, “My idea is better than yours. Let me tell you how it is…”
What people need most is 99% love and support, and 1% advice. We usually do the opposite. Good listeners know that, and through their listening, they aim to give love and support, not seek ways to give advice.
Make others feel like a million bucks!
When you listen, practice compassion, kindness, and generosity. In listening to others, we have an opportunity to uplift them. I read this once…
- People are insecure, give them confidence.
- People want to feel special, sincerely compliment them.
- People deserve a better tomorrow, show them hope.
- People are selfish, speak to their needs first.
- People are emotionally low, encourage them.
- People want to be associated with success, help them win.
…and people need to be understood, listen to them. In listening, we can offer confidence, hope, and encouragement.
What can I learn, not what can I teach?
You can learn something from anyone. But have you ever put that to the test? I sometimes challenge myself to write down what I learned from each person I met in an afternoon. When you are intentional to learn something, it is phenomenal what you can pick up.
Don’t look at your phone.
Can we discipline ourselves not to engage our ever-amazing phones? I activated my iPhone 6+ today. As I am writing this article, I look at it every few minutes, as it is stands erect on the desk next to me. I’ve seen research that indicates we look at our phones on average once every 6 minutes.
And that may be okay, but not when we are listening.
Quiet your thoughts.
When I am listening, I tend to want to think about everything from my lunch plans to what I can do on my vacation next month. It is my duty if I want to listen well to quiet my own thoughts. Simply block any thoughts that are not related to the conversation at hand.
Be interested in people’s stories.
When we think every human being has an amazing story, we will start valuing every word they say. Some people are not all that interesting, right? If that is what we think, then we need to work on the way we value people.
Good listeners don’t one-up.
When people tell us something great they did, we immediately think of something equally or more amazing that we can share with them. We often do this to connect with them, but we end up deflating them. Great listeners are not always trying to top what others are saying.
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