There are many walks of life, many leadership development programs, and many other opportunities to come into contact with exercises that are designed to make us better listeners. Deep listening is, in my opinion, a spiritual practice, that can and should be practiced and nurtured. But I also believe that one of the best ways for us to recognize what truly deep listening is comes from reflecting on our own experiences of times when we have felt truly listened to. When did you know that the person listening understood what you were saying? How did that feel?
I'd like to be able to say that it feels wonderful; that my heart feels full. And, in fact, that is often the kind of feeling that I get when I feel truly listened to. But here's another thing that I've learned about deep listening. It happens so rarely that it can actually be a bit unnerving when you truly have the experience. I used to run a program to bring Christian, Muslim, and Jewish teens together to learn from and about each other. In the preparation I would do with my Jewish students before our first gathering, we did an exercise in deep listening. Some students reflected the discomfort that came from someone really listening and being able to reflect back what had been shared. They were much more used to a more superficial kind of communication, and friends talking over one another. Why did deep listening cause discomfort? Perhaps, when we realize that someone is really trying to know us, we recognize feelings of vulnerability. Do we worry about whether they will like who we are? The truth is, we can only make deep connections with others by being willing to be vulnerable. The reward is the foundation of trust that can bond people together, and the incredible feeling of support that can come from those around us.
What does a listener do or convey that makes you feel understood? How does it feel?