My living room was sun-soaked and I was lying on the couch, post-surgery and in full recovery mode, and I was listening to a friend tell me about the things that were happening in their life.
In this state, distraction-free and slightly foggy from pain medication, I was able to simply lie there and listen. I wasn’t thinking about formulating a reply to their conversation, I wasn’t thinking about my grocery list and I certainly wasn’t waiting to fill in the next round of silence with a story of my own. I was lying there, listening.
As I did this, my friend said something that would have been, on any other day, an off-hand remark and likely one that I wouldn’t have paid attention to if I were in my usual state of mind. This time though, given the full focus that I had on the conversation, I picked up on the words, the emotion, the tone in which it was delivered and I experienced what felt like a punch to the gut. There was so much more that existed in the undercurrents of the off-hand remark.
Sometimes, the conversation we most need to pay attention to is the one that is happening just below the surface of the words we are saying.
After truly hearing my friend and understanding, at a deep level, what they really meant by their remark, I gained a new perspective about them that I didn’t have before and it cast away any previous preconceived notions that I held around the subject we were talking about.
As human beings, we often listen to reply instead of listening to understand.
It’s almost as though we speak reactively, a knee-jerk reaction of sorts, or with the same rhythm as a tennis match — back and forth and back and forth. By doing this, we often miss the opportunity to hear what people are really trying to tell us and we deny ourselves the opportunity to connect at a deep, wholehearted level with the people that are in our lives. As a result, we often feel lonely, misunderstood and critical of others because we leave very little room for conscious listening and understanding.
Fast forward to this week and I found myself writing out a gratitude practice, which then led to writing a dear friend an e-mail. I hadn’t done that in awhile and our conversation that week had felt a little broken and fuzzy. Normally we are on point and we enjoy a really deep connection but for whatever reason, we just kept missing the mark and it led to feelings of awkwardness and continued miscommunication.
Feeling into the experience, I realized that I needed to push a reset button and write what was true in my heart and explain why things may have been feeling off from my perspective. This wasn’t an opportunity for me to say, “You did this… and you said this… and you… and you…” but rather to own my part in that which was broken and explain what was getting triggered for me and what I thought I could do to fix my part.
I showered them with love and adoration and gratitude for being who they were and only offered up my piece of it so that they could better understand what was happening in the undercurrents of our conversation from my side. No projection, no theorizing, no assuming… just honesty around that which I knew I could explain.
After hitting send, and having my friend read it, I received a note from them that simply said, “Thank you. That warmed my heart and I needed to hear this more than you know.” To that message I simply replied, “I know” because the reality was, I did know. I had paid attention and I knew that what wasn’t being said was more important than what was.
When we dive deep and feel into what is just below the surface, we gain a better sense of understanding for the situation and the role that we are playing in it. From this place, we can communicate more clearly about our own feelings and we can seek to understand others without the noise diluting the opportunity to do so.
When we take conversation at face value and run other people’s words through our own filters, which are often tainted with opinions and judgement and preconceived notions about the way the world works, we lose out on the opportunity to understand the people in our lives more deeply.
Conscious listening and understanding are two things that are extremely valuable in life and in business.
Our conversations with others are often filled with distractions and our minds wander. We switch the conversation repeatedly to other topics, particularly when it gets uncomfortable for us and our replies often begin with, “Yeah… and this one time, I experienced…” versus asking the other person to go a little deeper and share a little more about their experience.
We cut each other off with, “Yeah – I saw that on Facebook/Twitter/Instagram” and we shut down conversations before they ever begin. We stay surface level. We avoid going deeper because the mindless chatter is simply a bridge to unload all of our stuff on another person.
When we do take the opportunity to connect at a deep level, we can more easily pick up on the things that aren’t being said that are equally, if not more, important. We can understand other people better and we get to know what is truly in their thoughts and hearts that add to their values and their choices.
This method of “listening to understand versus listening to reply” also helps us to remove the judgement and assumptions that we often bring to the table that can cloud up a conversation.
Given the two experiences that I have had recently, my mission is to be a more conscious listener. To not simply reply for the sake of replying or assume that I know more about someone’s motives than they do and instead, I’m going to ask questions.
And, pay attention to what’s just below the surface because that’s where the real conversation is happening.