Listening and Connecting From the Heart
“I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
- Maya Angelou
True Listening is Hearing
Human beings are social creatures, yet communication, and especially listening, does not come naturally to all of us. Sometimes we can struggle to say what we mean, or fall short to be present for others when they are expressing themselves. This can happen when we are simply waiting our turn to speak rather than processing what another person is saying during an interaction. This article is about how to listen to others in order to connect with them.
Some conversations are difficult to have, and it's not always easy to listen without resisting, but you will soon see that the difficult conversations can be the most rewarding. People will feel safe with you when you allow them to express freely. You can also come to a deeper understanding of yourself, your hopes and your fears, through how you feel about and respond to others.
Become Conscious of Your Projections: Unlearn What You Have Learned
I would say that the number one thing that has prevented me from truly hearing what another has to say is my projections onto them. You can project your own beliefs, feelings, and ideas onto another person to a point where it will not matter what they say because you will be approaching them only from your narrow frame of reference. Your projections can be governed by your opinion of another person. For instance, if you believe that your coworker is not a good person and is only out for his/her own merit, you will project that belief onto everything they say and do.
Your understandings of everything in life stem from things you have experienced, and the things you judge in others can be shadow aspects of yourself or qualities you have suppressed. If you think that your friend shares too much about their relationship, this may be an aspect of yourself that you have suppressed because you learned somewhere down the road that it was better to keep your personal life private. You don't have to be wrong, and neither does your friend. It is more about having this consciousness so you can see how it affects your relationships and the ways you express yourself.
You can also project past versions of a person onto the present version. The only constant in life is change, and we are all capable of growth and improvement. This is why it is important to let the past be the past and approach each interaction with an open heart and mind. People will occasionally react and respond in ways that disappoint you, but ultimately, none of us are mind readers and can never know exactly what was on someone's heart when they responded in a certain way. (Please note that this is not about accepting abuse or going back to an abuser; you can forgive, and you can say no and still be in a state of forgiveness.)
Listen Before You Respond (Don't React)
It can be discouraging to begin to tell another something that is important to you and have them mistake the reason you are telling it or misread your feelings. One instance of this was when I was telling a friend about something good that had happened with a particular person. In the past, I had a negative view about the person, and so did my friend. When I began to tell the story, my friend waited only for me to get the first sentence out and said, "Oh no!" However, the story was not bad in any way and was actually about a positive experience that I had with the person. I had to say, "No, no, I don't mean it like that, just listen," and continue with the story, and I felt a little irritated that my friend had automatically reacted in that manner.
Of course, eye contact and small confirmations of listening throughout a story are reassuring, and I encourage that. Just nodding or murmuring some indication of listening, if you are doing so sincerely, is good. Once you fully hear someone out, you'll have a better understanding of their feelings surrounding what they are saying, and you can mirror this to them accordingly rather than projecting what you think they mean onto the conversation.
Mirror, Don't Fix
Another challenging aspect of being a good listener is knowing when to only listen and when to give advice. Some of us are "fixers," and when presented with a problem, we want to do all we can to ensure that the problem goes away. Whenever a loved one expresses pain, it is only natural to wish to make their pain go away. However, people can feel unheard and unloved when advice is unsolicited and given without much thought.
Let's say that your friend is hurt because someone they love is ignoring them. There could be many layers to this love that they feel for the person who is shutting them out, and it is probably difficult (to say the least) for your friend to simply "forget" that person and "move on." So if this is your advice to them when they share their pain with you, you can sound dismissive and alienate your friend. As a result, they may be hesitant to share with you in the future or even tell you when something positive happens.
I volunteered on 7 Cups of Tea for a little over a year and learned that the most important step in helping someone through difficult emotions is simply validating the emotion and their right to feel it. Rather than telling someone to forget a person who is ignoring them and move on, you could say, "It makes sense that you are feeling this way," and invite them to share more about their experience. This in itself can be healing.
Of course, sometimes people ask for your advice or your opinion. In these cases, it is okay to share what you would do in their shoes or suggest something that you think would help them. It is important to do so with sensitivity and compassion. Keep in mind that the things that work for you - therapy, shopping, time off, music - may not appeal to someone else, or they may not have access to these things.
Be Genuine and Don't Burn Yourself Out
Everyone has the ability to sense when you are not approaching them in your truth. When I began my journey as a healer, I wanted to go on a rescue mission to save the world. At the surface, I wanted to be a good person, but deep down, I was burnt out and didn't know how to deal with my own issues. I felt like I wasn't doing enough to contribute or help people. I jumped into the healing and even my time on 7 Cups before I was truly ready, and my interactions with people were often chaotic and confusing, reflecting the chaos and confusion inside me.
You have to know when you are not available to listen and when you are. I am a firm believer in taking care of yourself first, that you can't pour from an empty cup. If you are an empath, people will be drawn to sharing things with you, more so than they would with the average person. It is important to have down time, times where you can be alone, in your own energy, and not that of other people. Don't do anything "in order to be a good person." You are already a good person, and this will become clearer as you understand how to take care of yourself and treat others with care in your full authenticity, both on your good and bad days.
© 2017 Holley Hyler