Even saying the word out loud makes me stop and think quietly. Listen…. Are you a good listener? Do you truly pay attention to what someone is saying before you jump right in with your own ideas, your own opinion, your own agenda? Are you an active listener?
The Chinese symbol for the verb “to listen” beautifully illustrates the art of active listening:
This beautiful calligraphy is made up of smaller symbols with specific meanings. The entire left side represents the EAR, focusing on our primary organ used in listening. The right side begins with YOU, the individual, indicating that the focus is on the other person, not on yourself. Underneath YOU are EYES and UNDIVIDED ATTENTION. As we listen, we use our eyes to pay close attention to the speaker, giving him or her the undivided attention they deserve. The base of the symbol is the HEART, which opens up our listening on the emotional level. And only when our attention and our heart is open to another, does true communication begin.
I’ve been working on my listening skills for many years, and I have found that my success depends on listening always with the heart. As a busy parent, I can sometimes be preoccupied with mundane tasks and find myself only partially listening to my son’s chatter. I always regret that later, knowing I’ve missed something important to his life.
Frequently in my business I’ve been told that I am an excellent listener. When I focus on helping solve a health question or when I am guiding someone through the early stages of their own business, I make a the extra effort in taking the time, the attention, and the heart to listen closely. For if I don’t understand the situation, how am I to help?
I am far from perfect though. When faced with a challenging position where I feel threatened or where the point of view of the individual is so removed from my own life experience, I find myself either “shutting down” or rising to anger. Neither lends itself to positive communication. In fact, it is generally a waste of both of our time, resulting in harsh words or frayed nerves or both.
Dondi Scumaci wrote a blog this month that touched my heart. It begins with a story of her experience with a fellow airline passenger. A difficult and potentially dangerous situation was defused by the kindness of the flight attendant.
As Dondi wrote: “When people behave badly, we may be tempted to meet resistance with power. It sounds something like this: If you don’t do what I want you to do (right now), you will be sorry! Instead, this amazing communicator chose to meet resistance with understanding. She reached through the ugly behavior and located the person – the tired, frustrated, panicked human.”
Make a point to head over to Dondi Scumaci’s blog post What Do You Need? and read her five key steps for effective communication. I have printed them off for my office wall and will be practicing them all: As a friend, as a leader and as a mother. A hard word arouses wrath and a kind word has power to change all.
Dondi Scumaci’s blog is found at www.dondiscumaci.com and the blog post I mention is at http://www.dondiscumaci.com/blog/2012/09/what-do-you-need/