We are taught how to learn. We are taught how to read. We are taught how to write. We are taught how to play. We are taught how to share. But are we taught how to listen? Are we ever really given an education or proper advice on how to listen to someone – to truly hear another person’s perspective, thoughts, beliefs, and understandings?
Understanding is a major component in listening. But I do not mean understanding from your own perspective. I mean to put yourself in their shoes, to see the situation from their point of view, to understand their experience and why they have that experience, to be involved in their side before you involve yourself in your side. We have a tendency to project and diagnose another’s situation without truly understanding their situation.
Take a moment to reflect on yourself: When you listen to someone are you really listening or are you relating, assuming, judging, projecting, and predicting based on your own experiences? Do you assume that since you’ve been through a similar situation or you have experienced the same circumstances that your approach holds water for the other person, too? Do you realize how arrogant that sounds? No two people experience the same situation equally or in the same manner nor do they take away the same thing. To project your experiences, understandings, or perspectives onto another person’s story, life, experience, or situation is not listening at all… it’s waiting to answer, waiting to be right, waiting to give your two cents on how you would do or not do things, and waiting to be heard as a form of selfishness.
True listening requires a detachment of yourself from the situation. It requires empathy (which is very different from sympathy). It requires openness. It requires vulnerability. It requires selflessness. It requires genuinity. It requires honesty. It requires an even exchange of trust – to comfort and feel comfortable. It requires the ability to first understand from another’s perspective before you understand and provide your own perspective.
Listening opens doors to relationships all-the-while building them through trust, honesty, openness, and understanding. When we listen to someone – when we truly listen and understand from their perspective – we are able to understand that person that much more and we are also able to understand the relationship that much more. This understanding helps build an emotional foundation. Every time you truly listen and understand one another you are laying the bricks to your foundation, your connection, and that is the most important part in any relationship (with others AND with self).
What would you rather want… to be heard or to be understood?