Listening is Risky Business
We all want to be listened to, but few of us make the choice to listen. Why is it so hard?
- We're afraid that if we listen, we may not be listened to.
- If we listen, we're afraid we'll have to give the other person what they want, and we won't get our needs met.
- If we're feeling insecure or inadequate, we personalize and misinterpret another's message, not listening to their actual intent.
- Strong emotions, such as anger, hurt, and fear get in our way.
- When we're angry, we want to criticize and blame rather than listen.
- When we're feeling hurt or threatened, we want to protect and defend ourselves rather than listen.
In times of conflict, it's even harder to listen. Each of us wants to be heard, so nobody's listening. Frustration rises, and the conflict soon escalates into attacks, emotional wounding and finally, alienation from each other. We retract into our positions, refusing to emerge and being unwilling to listen.
Listening is risky business, because we know that if we truly listen, we will be changed. If we pay unbiased attention to another's position we may begin to challenge our own. The obstacle we may encounter is the archaic notion that only one of us can be perceiving the truth correctly (be right). It is easier to judge the other, or our self, than to accept and appreciate the validity of our differences.
So why bother?
It is only by listening that we can genuinely connect with each other. Communication is determined by the quality of our listening, and the intimacy we all seek is only available if we open our ears, minds and hearts to each other.
When I make the choice to listen, I recognize that underneath the positions that separate us are values and interests that unite us. When I temporarily put aside my need to be heard and choose to listen to you, I realize that rather than being ignored or diminished, I am actually expanded. My identity enlarges to include you, so that as I give you the gift of listening, I am miraculously receiving it myself.