Are you a good listener?
Calm, compassionate listening is not something taught in school or university. What we have learned is how to summarize. This is useful in the business world, but it is utterly lacking in empathy.
This is because the business world rewards people who don’t get bogged down in ‘talking about work’ and who can get things done. However, our professional life is only one small part of a complex web of relationships in our digitally-connected daily lives.
In conversation with an intimate partner or close friend, trying to ‘summarize’ their perspective so you can ‘move on’ is a surefire way to hit your head against the proverbial wall. It does not produce reciprocal opening, quite the contrary.
The experience of consistently having your unique perspective go unacknowledged (or only partially acknowledged) is a recipe for long-term resentment — and it’s a hard knot to untangle without the right skills.
Even the closest relationships can erode slowly over time, when unchecked assumptions of who you are and what you think are left unquestioned, unspoken and unacknowledged. The land of ‘Unchecked Assumptions’ is where relationships go to die.
I’m not exaggerating either. Take a moment to recall the last person who ‘assumed’ all over you. Maybe someone you lived or worked closely with who should know you better. How do you feel about the way they see you? Have you been guilty of the same thing?
Deep connection is what your soul needs most. But we haven’t been taught the skills we need to bring about this connection with our Higher Self or those people closest to us. Even people who consider themselves good listeners are shocked to learn their communication skills are lacking. The truth is, the conventional ways we’ve been taught to interact with people are designed for efficiency of communication and not deep connection.
And this is a GOOD thing.
If you’ve learned to be an efficient communicator who can summarize what someone else is saying quickly, without hesitation, and get your point across with as little friction as possible, you’re set up to succeed in the professional world.
Your communication skills need to ‘get the job done’ — especially when it comes to clients, colleagues, bosses and staff.
This points to the main difference between traditional ’communication’ versus deep connection. The conventional way of communicating is all about making your point heard so you can move on to the next thing. But for personal relations to grow and flourish more is required.
Your unique point-of-view is perhaps the most valuable (and fragile) part of you. It’s the one part of you that can’t be faked — and is also the most vulnerable to criticism and humiliation.
You’ve accumulated years of life experience, you’ve developed a nuanced and complex perspective on the world, and you have a unique one-of-a-kind life path that can never again be replicated or repeated in quite the same way. To really ‘get your world’ takes some careful, deeply compassionate listening.
We regularly encounter people who say: “You shouldn’t be angry because of…” or “If you think your situation is bad, you should hear what happened to me once…” or “Have you tried thinking of it XYZ way instead of your way?”
The underlying communication here is pretty clear: “You shouldn’t think that because… You shouldn’t feel that because… You shouldn’t have your perspective because…”
This “should” stuff maybe helpful in business but on the personal level it is down right annoying. Now consider how you actually do the same thing not only to others but to yourself. I’m serious. If you pay attention to your self talk you will observe that this is the primary source of your anger. You see the people in this world not as they are, but as you think they should be.
We all desire validation, that is natural, but when it is lacking we can get very upset. We want to be heard, respected, or just acknowledged. At some level we can carry a measure of unseen and unacknowledged pain, anger and resentment as a direct result of not being loved or valued.
As if this were not enough of a problem we compound it with unskillful self talk. We all have unhealthy narratives running in our heads. Our history is “his story” and often it is the “someone done me wrong” song. We get stuck saying this person “should” do this or this “should” do that. We get ourselves all worked up over such nonsense.
Simply stated we all get angry for the same reason: we tell ourselves things “should” be different than they are. When you really see this fact you will come to realize all this rage and bitterness is self-inflicted. With the right skills we can learn to heal this pain within us and in so doing we help to heal the World.
Sadly, this need for validation goes unmet for most people and they bear that pain in silence as a consequence. This toxic emotion and resentment produces psychic pain. And it rises to the surface when we start thinking the world “should” be different than it is.
The more we suffer the more we start to act out in dysfunctional ways. Often, without even being aware of it or understanding why, our Shadow takes us for an “anger” ride. These are opportunities for forgiveness that we must be mindful of. Have you witnessed any opportunities for forgiveness in your life today?
We need maitrī (Sanskrit; Pali: mettā) means benevolence, loving-kindness, friendliness, amity, good will, and active interest in others. We need self-compassion or maitrī for ourselves, so we can face our shadow. We need hear what the Shadow has to say. Just be a good listener, let that child who was hurt speak its truth. Until we can love the child within there will be no healing of our Shadow. Until then we suffer and cause others to suffer with us. Often these are the people closest to us, the very people who care the most.
What to do?
The answer is love. Not romantic love, that has its place in life to be sure. But without the willingness to listen there is no love, romantic or otherwise. Sure we can fool ourselves into romantic love but how long will that last? Without empathy and the deep connection that only genuine listening can bring, no romance is going to last long.
Learning the skills for deep connection is what Empathy Circling is all about. We all need it. We need to unlearn our old ways of assuming, summarizing, and rushing to judgement. These are useful skills in the business world, but being professional is an occupation, being human is not. Being human means treating other people as human, and we can all improve our skill in this regard.
As for myself I pledge to be a better listener in 2021 than I was in 2020. That also means listening to my own grievances from the child within (where the shadow material comes from) understanding why I get angry. In 2021, I am determined to have maitrī and compassion for myself and others… Will you join me in this effort?