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To Improve Your Deep Listening Skills, Open Your Heart

If you want to develop deep listening skills, don’t focus solely on listening techniques; you master deep listening only when you open your heart.“Listen with your eyes as well as your ears.” ~ Graham Speechley

You might think that deep listening skills are mainly between your ears and brain. While that’s part of the process, more crucial is what’s going on in your heart — your inner person that’s powered by motives, desires, values and your way of operating in the world. If you’re tired of superficial conversations, read on…

Superficial listening can become deep listening by embodying everything that makes a Master Listener. You embody masterful listening by the way you position your body, the harmony you feel by being fully present, and the calming and reassuring messages you convey to others through speech and body language. Your emotions are tempered by empathy, compassion and tolerance.

Deep listening skills are not based on techniques or strategies. They come from your deep desire for connection. Your heart wants to speak to the heart of someone else. You shrug off fear as a hindrance. You refuse to be altered by insecurities and inadequacies. Your goal for deep listening is to build relationships, solve problems, ensure understanding, resolve conflicts, and improve accuracy. 

Why deep listening skills come from an open heart…

To listen for understanding and connection, you can’t come from a place of being opinionated, judgmental or dogmatic. You accept that there are as many ways of being in the world as there are people. And you’re delighted that variety and diversity are what spark new ideas and wonder. 

An open heart allows you to…

  • Know that whatever the person is saying is their truth, so you don’t have to comment on it or fix it, just witness it. We want the other person to empty their heart. It’s easy to confuse the real person with our story about the person, our assumptions or imaginations, but don’t do it!  Work to remove any tendency to judge. As soon as you indulge in judgmental thoughts, you’ve compromised your effectiveness as a listener. As Jane Goodall said, “Change happens by listening and then starting a dialogue with the people who are doing something you don’t believe is right.”
  • Look for the value in the person and you’ll value what they say. Feelings of superiority often get in the way of deep connection. Do you feel like the enlightened one or that you know everything already? Then you’ve shut your ears to hear anything new. Curiosity engenders a receptive attitude in which you genuinely want to understand what the other person is saying.
  • Admit that your time is more meaningful when you share it with others. Slow down and make time for conversation. If you approach each interaction with the idea of how you can serve that person, your heart connection will happen more quickly and deeply. “What’s in it for me” stifles connection.
  • Get comfortable with silence. The best listening advice is to Not Speak! You don’t need to jump in and fill every silence.
  • Quickly dismiss thoughts about yourself, when they arise  (What must they think of me? Does my breath smell?) Remind yourself that you’re gifting this person time and attention, so don’t take back that gift.
  • Refuse to interrupt or be interrupted. Silently count 1,2,3, before speaking to make sure the other person is finished. And kindly express that you’re not finished and would appreciate the chance to fully finish your thought.
  • Question with curiosity.  Explore what they really mean and why they say it. Clarify any new thought by asking a question about it. Don’t assume you understand, because you’ve interpreted it or associated it with something from the past.
  • Keep the conversation going even if it gets derailed. You might be anxious to hear about a detail, and this can lead the conversation down a whole different path. If that happens, say how glad you are to hear about that detail, but now you’d like to hear more about the main topic. 
  • Listen with your whole body and feel the energy of the other. If they’re excited, feel excited. If they’re sad, feel sad. Convey your feelings through your facial expressions and words. Give non-verbal recognition — nod your head, match your facial expressions with what’s being said, maintain an open and relaxed body expression. This means not getting distracted by anything during the conversation.
  • Create the right setting. Have you been talking in a gathering where you drift from person to person and you have no idea how or when each conversation ends? For deep listening, invite the person to sit down in a quiet place so you can focus, without distraction.
  • Listen to remember.  Allow your mind to create a mental picture of the information being communicated. Focus on keywords or concepts and make reference to them later in the conversation. Don’t spend the time planning what to say next. 
  • Relax. If you are a quick thinker, relax your pace for the slower, more thoughtful person. Filling in their sentences or offering solutions tells them to hurry up because you’re done listening.
  • Embody compassion. If you feel irritated or awkward, purposefully shift your focus back to the person. Being dismissive is damaging to relationships. The goal is to make everyone feel valued.

It takes mindful practice to break free from unhelpful conversation styles and habits. Instead of thinking of conversation as a tennis match where you volley sentences back and forth, try being a detective who’s getting to the bottom of the mystery sitting in front of you. 

Would you like to turn yourself into a person who masters and embodies deep listening skills? To explore how embodiment works, download my free report, 10 Steps to an Embodied Practice.

Thank you for the photo Nick Fewings.

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