Our ability to communicate effectively is critical to the quality of our relationships and to success in all aspects of life. The key to building healthy, lasting relationships is to deepen our ability to listen
When we engage in conversation, there is a natural alternation between speaking and listening. When we speak, we are in an active mode. Good listening demands a receptive mode. To deeply listen to what another person is saying, we need to completely let go of focus on ourselves and put all of our attention on the other.
Many people find it challenging to quickly and deeply shift into a receptive state during a conversation. When the other person is talking, their mind is still active. Perhaps they are thinking about what they want to say next. Or maybe they are distracted and thinking about something extraneous to the conversation. This prevents them from fully listening to what the other person is saying and leads to poor communications, filled with misunderstandings.
In thinking about how to deepen listening, I’ve drawn upon my experience as a teacher, tennis player, and coach. In tennis, the #1 key to success is to focus deeply on the ball. My favorite way of doing this is watching the seams of the ball. Seeing the seams spinning as the ball approaches my racket is very challenging. When I remember to do this, my eyes lock into the ball. I feel complete confidence and, almost invariably, hit a good shot.
When you’re having a conversation, the person you’re talking with is the ball. So, what are the seams? If you’re talking on the phone, you can focus on noticing changes in the speaker’s volume, tone, or pace. A friend of mine who is a very successful salesman focuses on the level of interest in a prospect’s voice. This not only engages his focus, but also gives him important information. When he notices the prospect’s interest level rising as he talks about a particular product, he naturally gives her more information about that product.
Of course, in an in-person conversation, you have many more options of how to deepen your concentration. In addition to the auditory details mentioned above, you can focus on visual cues such as facial expression, gestures, and posture. Maybe there is something about the speaker that catches your interest, such as way she smiles or the way she leans forward when she is enthusiastic about a subject. If there is, just go with what you’re naturally drawn to watch. If nothing in particular catches your attention, just pick one visual or auditory detail and focus on it for a while. When you start losing interest, switch to different one.
My favorite deep listening technique is to notice the length and frequency of the pauses between the speaker’s sentences or clauses. I find that this way of focusing quickly draws me into a state of deep focus and helps me not only to hear the speaker’s words, but also to pick up on subtle nonverbal messages, even in a phone conversation.
When I focus deeply on the seams of the ball while playing tennis, I’m so absorbed in watching the ball that I’m not thinking about where I’m going to hit. When the ball reaches me, I just instinctively know what to do. It’s the same in a conversation. When, I’m fully absorbed in listening, I’m not thinking about what I’m going to say next. When she stops speaking, I respond appropriately and effectively
Andrew Oser has been offering guided retreats on Mount Shasta since 1982. Through hikes to little-known sacred sites, guided meditations, spiritual life coaching, and time drinking in the silence of the mountain, he helps clients to deeply renew themselves in body, mind, and spirit and receive clear vision for their lives. Andrew also offers spiritual life coaching by phone and Zoom.