It is said that in order for us to truly listen, we must be present. Eliminate distractions. Look the other person in the eye. Clear our minds and focus on what is being said. Easier said than done, right? Listening can sometimes be an abstract idea. How can we stay focused in this fast-paced world? How do we manage our emotions and our ideas when they differ from another person’s thoughts? It all comes down to our brain, our heart, and our courage.
Photo by Studio Eiler @studioeiler
I truly believe that conversation is an art form. We are constantly expressing ideas and feelings through our words and actions. The act of listening is one of the most significant components of this masterpiece, and we must listen with presence. I want to narrow this idea of “listening with presence” down to three simple ideas that one can remember during a conversation. To do this, I am going to use some characters from one of my FAVORITE movies: The Wizard of Oz.
In the classic story of The Wizard of Oz, The Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Lion each gained an important component of themselves at the end of the movie. The Scarecrow desired a brain, the Tin Man a heart, and the Cowardly Lion wanted his courage.
Brain. Heart. Courage. Three simple words that help us listen with presence during a conversation.
When I am in a conversation with someone, I aspire to be the Tin Man, the Scarecrow, and the Lion after they have each rediscovered an important part of themselves that was missing. If I am listening with my brain, my heart, and with courage, then I am certain that I am listening with focus and presence.
1. The Scarecrow: Listen With Your Brain
In order to listen with our brain, we have to be disciplined. I think the biggest difference between simply hearing and listening is engagement between our brain and the person speaking. When we are truly listening, we are actively thinking about what the other person is saying, processing, making connections, and having an awareness of the direction of the conversation. Does the person want advice? Do they just need someone to listen? Do they need empathy or a personal connection? Is there a question that I need to ask in order to understand what is being said? In order to effectively communicate and give each other what is needed out of the conversation, we must be constantly thinking and processing what the other person needs from us.
2. The Tin Man: Listen With Your Heart
Another important element of effective listening is showing empathy in a conversation. By having empathy, you are listening with your heart. When you are listening to someone with an open-mind and free of judgements, empathy comes very easily. It’s amazing to see a person relax and open up when they actually feel comfortable in a conversation and know that they are being heard. Listening with your heart creates a supportive and comfortable atmosphere for everyone.
I’ve heard that in order to be a good listener we must put our emotions aside, and I believe this to be true in most cases. I also think that paying attention to our emotions during a conversation, depending on what they are, can lead to even more empathy and compassion. This is when your brain and your heart can work together. Recognize negative emotions that might not be helping you practice empathy and put them aside for the time being in order to avoid conversation derailment and frustration. Focus in on emotions and feelings that are helping you better understand what the person is saying or going through. When we listen with our hearts, we have the ability to form deeper connections with each other, and sometimes better understand ourselves.
3. The Lion: Listen with Courage
Listening with courage is not always easy, but an act that is very necessary in conversation.
We must have the courage to ask questions. Questions can be asked to clarify or to take the person down a path that you are not sure either of you want to go down. Ultimately asking questions will lead to a deeper understanding of the conversation. Asking questions shows engagement and interest, and when you have the courage to ask the tough questions, you are letting the other person know that you are listening with both your heart and your brain.
We must also have the courage to listen when we disagree. Our opinions, viewpoints, and perspectives are becoming more defined than ever, and sometimes this can make it more difficult to listen to what others have to say and not shut them out completely. We must have the courage to listen, not necessarily in silence or agreement, but with respect.
Lastly, we must have the courage to listen with patience. Listening with respect can sometimes take a lot of patience, especially when we really want to share our perspective, or if we find ourselves in disagreement. Listening with patience takes a lot of courage because you are trusting that your words will eventually be heard and received. Giving someone the chance to talk and showing them that you are listening to them with your brain and your heart without interrupting or showing impatience will hopefully inspire them to do the same when it is their turn to listen.
Listening takes thought. Listening takes heart. Listening takes Courage.
Admitting that listening with presence is difficult at times does not make us bad listeners — it makes us human. We live in a fast-paced world. We frequently communicate through social media and text messaging. We live in a world where we are constantly reading and hearing the opinions of others everywhere we turn, and our patience and ability to listen and truly understand is tested every day.
For these reasons it is more important than ever to not just hear, but to listen. Aspire to listen not only with our ears, but with our brains, our hearts, and with courage.
When these components all come together you are left with the true art of a conversation, which hopefully will lead to a more compassionate and understanding world.
Wising you zest & light,