For those of us who naturally "have a lot of words," (a.k.a. motor-mouths, chatty-cathys,) this can be a very important lesson in life. I know it has been for me.
For anyone who has ever been in couples counseling and for those of us who have graduate degrees in clinical psychology or counseling, the idea of "active listening" is just a concept until practiced and honed.
I can remember as a teen and young adult, the feeling of clamoring to respond, get my point across, express my opinion so much so that I missed half of what the other person was saying. I see it with clients when I am providing relationship counseling. I understand the sensation of compulsion to be heard, to express.
I have found there is even greater value in being the holder of space, marveling at the power of the space between words.
Learning how to listen deeply and hold space for another person is possibly one of the most profound experiences of this human life. It requires practice to rewire the brain to be ready to talk less and listen more.
Here are some tips for developing this deeper listening practice:
- Make a decision to set aside your own agenda and really listen to what someone is expressing. Be conscious with your mindset first.
- Envision creating a big bubble of space around you and the person to whom you are listening. Deem this bubble of awareness sacred space. Allow it to assist you in staying focused.
- Put away your phone, tablet, computer or any other distractions.
- Face the person, turning your chest and face toward the person you are with.
- Breathe. While they are speaking consciously breathe and allow yourself to just be as you take in what they are saying.
- Watch their face and body as they talk. Sometimes this tells you more than their words.
- Suspend all judging thoughts and temptation to analyze, respond, react. You will notice these thoughts bubble up. Just send them to the side and stay present.
- Be a compassionate witness. Allow yourself to feel what they seem to be feeling. Allow your heart to be open. Stay soft as you watch and listen.
- When they finish expressing. Take a deep breath and nod gently acknowledging without words that you hear this person. Let there be silence. Don't rush in to respond.
- Take a few more moments to notice how it feels to just listen and hold the space.
- When time and space has been held, ease into responding with softness and affirmation of what you hear them expressing. It's not about whether you agree with what this person has said. It's about you being present and just listening.
EXTRA CHALLENGE: Set aside one day to focus on being the listener and the holder of space all day and set aside the need to talk or express. This will help you to really begin strengthening your deep listening muscle.