This is an excerpt from Conscious Men, written by John Gray and Arjuna Ardagh.
There are many dimensions to listening. One is just like the sky: to be still and receive. Simply listening to someone sharing challenges and issues may in itself be the solution that is required. Particularly for a woman, when she feels heard, it produces oxytocin—which lowers stress—and then she discovers that she has the power to solve the problem on her own, or it loses its importance. A Conscious Man has the trust that when someone is emotional or stressed, or when new creative thoughts are rising and dreams are sprouting, a process is working in the other person. He knows that he does not have to interrupt that process to fix it. He simply provides a stable and safe container for it to find its resolution.
Practice active listening by becoming curious and asking powerful questions so as to draw out more from the person speaking. Ivan Misner, the greatest expert in the world on networking, says that a good networker has two ears and one mouth and uses them all proportionally. “It’s something I had to work on and I continue to work on. Especially when it is a topic I really know something about. If someone comes to me with an issue, within thirty seconds I feel I know what the problem is, and I have the solution. And I need to tell them. But if you start to tell someone what they should be doing before you have really heard them, they don’t feel heard and they can’t listen to your answer. You may have heard the same problem one hundred times before. But it’s only when the other person feels heard that you can give them suggestions and ideas. So a Conscious Man uses both ears and his mouth in a two-to-one ratio. I’m still working on that.”
A man can listen in a superficial way but also in a deep way. Deep Listening means to hear every dimension of the other person, both what is said as well as what is implied. It means to hear the words and the emotions underneath them and to hear the general disposition and mood of the person: to hear all of it.
Here is a really simple and obvious example. You go to a family gathering at your parents’ house. When you arrive, your mother has done most of the preparations already.
“What can I do to help get ready?” you ask.
“Oh, I’ve done most of it already by myself. It would have been great if you could have asked me an hour ago. Just do what you want now; I really don’t care.” If you listen only to the words, you might reply, “Well great, Mom. If you really don’t care, I’ll just go put my feet up and have a beer.” But it would be obvious to anybody that the words do not contain everything she is communicating. She is telling you that she feels resentful, abandoned, or frustrated. She has given up hope of you showing up and being present.
Deep Listening means to hear that she has not felt supported, and even deeper listening would mean to also recognize her difficulty in asking for help. It might mean to reach out and connect with her and give her a hug, to quietly in your heart empathize with her feelings, and only then to look around for some practical task that you could take on.
That was an obvious example that very few men would miss. All day long we are faced with more subtle examples where we are called upon to listen more deeply than just to the words on the surface.
When we get distracted in superficial listening, we can become like an attorney, focusing on the exact meaning of words but overlooking where they are coming from.When anyone says, “You never show up on time,” or “You always make such a mess,” Deep Listening means to not take the words literally but to see them as an opportunity to validate emotion. This is empathy. Rob Allbee learned this in his work in Folsom Prison with prisoners serving life sentences: “You just sit back and listen to the story, listen to where they are coming from. People want to feel like they matter. I’ve learned that I can just sit here, and listen, and be authentically engaged simply because I want to give the prisoners the feeling that they matter.”
Being fully present means to feel what it is like to be inside the other person’s reality, including the fact that they are stressed and overtired and maybe need help and do not know how to ask for it. It means to be able to slip inside the other person’s shoes and to feel what it’s like to be in there. That is how you fall in love with people.
Deep Listening can be condensed down to three powerful statements. You do not need to say these statements out loud; they can be communicated through the way you show up.
I’m right here.
The first statement is one of presence. It is communicated in the way that you are in your body. “Feel me: I’m here with you.”
Tell me more.
The second statement is one of curiosity. It communicates a disposition of wanting to know more. “Help me understand this better.”
I’ve got this.
The third statement is one of action. Again, it does not have to be communicated through words or even doing anything immediately. It is a disposition. Think of Michelangelo’s statue of David in Florence. He is sizing up Goliath. He has a certain stance. Michelangelo perfectly captures that moment. David is holding his rock, knowing that he has the skill to take down the giant. He has an expression of calm equanimity and confidence. His whole being is saying, “I can do this. I’ve got it.”
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