When you get together with family and friends this holiday season, are you afraid you’ll find yourself sitting next to someone with whom conversation will either seem stilted and uncomfortable, or with whom you will try to change their opinion because it is much different than yours?
Most of us have a relative or friend who seems to draw the very soul out of our bodies with strong opinions that conflict with ours; and with whom we spend much time trying to find the perfect answer to counter those opinions.
Imagine what might happen if you entered into a conversation with the deliberate intention of developing a new kind of relationship with that person? How might your holiday get-together be different than it has been in the past if you were to really listen without trying to change him?
And just how might you do that?
Here is an excerpt from the last chapter of Healing Relationships is an Inside Job called “Listen With Your Third Ear.”
You can create support for a new relationship built on mutual respect by learning to listen with your third ear. Like “reading between the lines,” this allows you to hear what is being said indirectly, the hurts that are hidden, and the agenda the other person is bringing to the discussion. Of course, it is hard to sustain this kind of listening because in any conversation most of us have our own agenda. It is hard to set that aside while someone else is talking. It is hard to give support without giving unwanted advice. It is hard to respond to the speaker’s feelings when we are caught up in our own.
Nevertheless, undivided, genuine attention to what the other person is saying makes that person feel validated and valued beyond almost anything else we can do. Further, our ability to listen, and listen well, generates goodwill, respect and an ability to truly enjoy another person.
For anyone who isn’t a good listener (and that’s most of us) and who would like to learn how to listen more carefully (that should be all of us), I suggest an excellent book on listening, The Lost Art of Listening: How Learning to Listen Can Improve Relationships by Michael P. Nichols.
This thoughtful and witty book provides a most helpful look at the reasons people don’t hear one another. As you read his easy-to-learn listening techniques, you will be able to develop new skills that your true self can remember the next time you need a third ear.
Here are a few ideas about listening that Nichols sprinkles throughout the book:
Without being listened to, we are shut up in the solitude of our own hearts.
Being heard means being taken seriously.
Reassuring someone isn’t the same as listening.
Being listened to spells the difference between feeling accepted and feeling isolated.
Listening is the art by which we use empathy to reach across the space between us.
Passive attention doesn’t work.
Nagging is in the ear of the beholder.
Don’t feel that way, translated: Don’t upset me with your upset.
As you can see from this brief list, Nichols makes clear that “listening well is often silent but never passive.” Listening with the third ear, being present in the moment, and setting aside your ego allows you to hear what your heart needs to hear and what your mind needs to know — if you are to heal your relationship by bridging differences between you and another person.
The author Truman Capote used his third ear to listen to those whom others would consider “boring,” the kind who seem to offer little substance in conversation beyond halting single-syllable comments. If he were at a party and found himself seated next to such a person, he would give himself the goal of discovering what it was about that person that made him seem boring to others. Capote was able to momentarily step out of his own frame of reference and into that of the person with whom he was engaged. By listening well, he acknowledged and affirmed the “bore,” a validation that in all likelihood allowed that person to actually become interesting.
I would love to know how this approach works for you.
Next week I will share another excerpt from Healing Relationships is an Inside Job. It follows the above text and is titled “Silent Signals Speak Volumes.”