The noise of our thoughts and the swirl of our emotions clutter our ability to listen to the crux of the conversation. Silence your thoughts to listen beyond words.
I awakened to the distinction between hearing and listening when I started my journey of transformation in 2006. Until then, most of my conversations occurred by focusing on the words rather than the intention and emotion behind them. Hearing is limited to the faculty of perceiving sounds and hence, it is an information-gathering exercise. On the other hand, listening requires a person to give their attention to a sound and therefore, goes beyond the basic function of hearing.
“Let go of your mind and then be mindful. Close your ears and listen.” — Rumi
All human beings are a bundle of emotions. Our emotions influence our actions and state of being. Our language alters as and when we feel sad or happy. Our tone is loud and words harsh when we are angry or frustrated; our actions are hasty or aggressive when we feel the need to prove ourselves; our behaviour is compassionate when we come from love and understanding. Hence, our emotions and the ensuing thoughts dominate our words and expressions. To understand the true meaning of what is being said, it is essential to focus on the underlying emotions rather than just the words.
Each person perceives and expresses life differently based on their experience and culture. When we listen only to the words, we miss what a person may be trying to say. I remember while coaching a fellow coach, there was an underlying need to prove my effectiveness as a coach. After some time, I felt as if I had hit an internal wall. I threw my hands up and vulnerably shared with the client that my attachment to wanting him to have an “aha” moment was obstructing me. That was his moment of truth. He said, “I now know that my attachment to outcomes is blocking me from unleashing my potential.” I was able to be a reflective mirror to the client when I let go of trying to control the conversation and decided to trust my inner self.
The art of deep listening
The noise of our thoughts and the swirl of our emotions clutter our ability to listen to the crux of the conversation. Deep listening is an art that requires us to be completely available, conscious, and open without any judgement, attachment, or preconceived notions. To give attention to any sound or word, we need to be able to focus completely on the verbal and non-verbal cues such as body language, tone, and the pace of communication. This undivided attention or the ability to observe objectively facilitates us to understand emotions beyond the words.
I recall having a coaching conversation, where the client was frustrated with his habit of procrastination. Although there was a deep desire to change, the client was feeling frustrated by his failure to remain motivated and committed to moving forward. I noticed that the self-confidence of the client was rather low, as there was a feeling of lack of achievement. Also, as I listened deeply, I noticed a sense of grief in his voice. I asked him, “What are you grieving about?” That question suddenly unlocked his emotions because he had not realised that a feeling of grief was holding him down. He shared that he was grieving about the “lost time and effort” and “what could have been possible”. I offered that since the past could not be reversed, would he like to consider creating a new future? That possibility sparked a renewed motivation to look for solutions. He realised that wishful thinking and judgments were blocking his ability to access his authentic self.
Making an impact
We all desire to be understood. But do we truly understand ourselves? When we let go of our assumptions and expectations and listen openly, we feel understood, accepted, and acknowledged for who we are. Similarly, a coach is an observer who acts as a catalyst to another unfoldment. To be effective as a coach or observer, we need to shed our conditioned thoughts and reconnect to listen deeply to our inner voice. Our inner voice is the voice of love that guides us on how to be in the moment.
When we express authentically, we can positively influence our relationships, because then there is no gap between intention, emotion, and action.
A client, a successful CEO, was very good at managing the business. To expand the business to the next level, he knew that he needed to develop and empower his team. Keen to improve his interpersonal relationship with the team, he opted for coaching to understand how to motivate and influence his team to perform better. As his self-awareness expanded, he realised that he needed to pay attention to understanding his team members, rather than expecting to be understood. The leader started hosting town hall meetings to invite participation, ideation, and hear out the problems of his team members. He also offered group coaching conversations to each team to understand their strengths and discover solutions on how to grow in alignment with the organisational vision. Letting go of his need to control everything and opening the space for dialogue enabled the client to leverage the team and grow the business more than threefold.
In 2016, Forbes reported that 65% of employees felt that, more often than not, a communication breakdown hampered the effectiveness of their job. Further, a study by Gallup in 2017 revealed that almost 85% of the global workforce was actively disengaged from their jobs. This brings us back to the fact that communication is not just the ability to speak in a dialect or language. Even though it may seem simple, sometimes one lifetime is not enough to master this skill. All relationships hinge on our ability to say the right words at the right time.
With awareness, we can be alert to the impact of our state of being on others and choose how to be in any moment. Rachel Naomi Remen said: “A loving silence often has far more power to heal and to connect than the most wellintentioned words.” Therefore, a conversation is effective when there is space for the expression of emotions. While we listen, when we trust our awareness and trust the wholeness of others, we can create magic in any conversation!
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