The Power of Deep Listening

Forest with sunlight seeping in

Written by Ruth Luban

August 6, 2021

Have you ever noticed how attentively you listen when people confide in you? Most of us tend to “self-listen” that is, we hear only part of what a person is saying while calculating our own response. It’s so automatic that when I ask you about the quality of your listening skills, you may not know how to answer.

Another frequent tendency as listeners is our urge to solve people’s problems or give them advice when they confide their feelings or needs to us. Again, we’re not listening purely, we’re focusing on solutions they never asked for. Most people simply want to be heard non-judgmentally. If they are sharing a problem, they want us to trust them to find their own solution. They want deep listening.

Deep listening is a form of mindfulness. It means listening to learn…about the person sharing, or about ourselves. It requires suspending judgment, avoiding distraction, and honoring the connection between speaker and listener. Maintaining eye contact while practicing deep listening aids in staying connected and “hearing” more compassionately.

Our culture is driven by work addiction, time-is-money motivation, and cost-benefit analyses — all modes to speed us up rather than slow us down to truly listen. And truly listening does take a slower pace. It means listening without interruption, allowing someone to finish a thought with maybe a couple of quiet beats in between their expression and our response. It’s counter-intuitive in the western way of working and living.  In fact, many people pay big bucks to see therapists simply to feel listened to, to have their stories heard.

When someone comes to us with permission to listen to their stories, their life reviews, it is a deep honor to be chosen for that task. In addition to providing that non-judgmental space, we get the joy of seeing and hearing them light up as they relive peak experiences or revisit troubles that require no current solution. The gifts of deep listening go both ways: the listener learns, and the listened-to feels validated and appreciated.

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