The Importance of Listening in Relationships

Receptive communication sounds like an oxymoron, yet the two words are actually synonymous in the world of relationship coaching. As a practicing marriage and family therapist since 1985, I have listened to hundreds...okay, 1985; I guess - thousands, of couples tell me that their problem is communication. 

I would say; "no, your problem is listening." I'm not a mind reader, but I know that very few people know how to listen in a manner that connects, and at a depth that is possible.

One of my greatest joys in life is sharing, what I've had the great honor of learning, about deep listening. It's the most beautiful gift anyone can give to another. And, as you might imagine, the rewards for the listener, are immense. To listen so that you can fully understand what your partner is feeling, whether you agree with it or not, is the single most connecting function a human being has access to. Yes, it’s even greater than sex!

Ask yourself; who has listened deeply to you in your past? Who has listened to you with nothing on their mind, with no agenda, no need to change how you think and feel, no need to help you get over it? Just listen with an empty mind to get affected by the's incredibly beautiful; yet, oh so rare.

I think we’ve all had the experience of wanting to communicate something we’re feeling deeply with someone we feel close to. It’s really an incredible compliment to have chosen this one person to express our deep feelings to, just wanting to feel a connection, just wanting to feel comforted but the listener tries to fix our problem… not what we wanted and in fact, it only makes us feel worse, even though our listener just wanted to help us. Most of us have been on the receiving end of the fixer, as well as having tried to fix a situation for the person sharing their problem with us.

Clients have told me they feel weak if they listen to their partner too deeply. Isn't that interesting? When my clients and I become curious about that, we find the underlying thinking that's involved...i.e. "if I just listen I feel subordinate, passive, even controlled." Isn't it interesting what lurks in the human psyche -- to no fault of our own. We're all innocent to our own thinking - we didn't ask for it to be in our mind, yet there it is, from somewhere out of the blue. 

Remaining Receptive -The Importance of Not Reacting while Listening

When a person is open to seeing the thinking that gets in their way of fully listening they can toss it aside, once they see it serves no purpose; it's not productive to hang on to those old habits of thinking. So go ahead, toss away thoughts of control and power and whose smarter than who. We're all equal at our core, we're all from the same source of infinite wisdom, creativity and intelligence.

Here's another challenge - try remaining receptive to someone speaking to you when yo and/or they re upset. The only way anyone can pull that off is if they are able to bounce out of their upset immediately and quiet their mind. I know we're built to be resilient but we are still human with a "reptilian brain," as anthropological psychologists love to call it; so the likelihood of someone immediately bouncing out of upset is pretty remote for most of us. However, I have noticed that people with an understanding of how the Principles of Mind, Thought, and Consciousness find that capacity more often. Though, we are all able to evaluate where we are in the present moment by the feeling we’re getting. Any feeling of upset is an indication that whatever is on our mind at that moment is not good for us or for those around us. An upsetting feeling alerts us to the fact that we have to quiet our mind enough to return to common sense.
It is always wisest to calm yourself down first and foremost no matter how long it takes to get calm - never, ever try to communicate when anyone is upset - rule number one. Another thing to know is that when you think you’ve got it under control, you really don’t if you’re still feeling aggravated. Remember the cartoons of the angel and devil on each shoulder - that 'ole devil will whisper in your ear, "Hey, you're not upset, you're just fine and dandy."

What about this -- ?

Are you receptive to wisdom when you are upset? 
How often have your negative thoughts masqueraded as Wisdom? There's that devil again whispering in your ear: "Hello, this is wisdom speaking – go ahead tell your boss off – she deserves it!" So easy to be tricked by our thinking.

If it was really Wisdom it would come from your heart, not your "reptilian brain." You may wonder, "how can you tell the difference?" One can always tell the difference by the feeling - the feeling never lies. I can hear my teacher, Syd Banks, say: "Look for a feeling; look for a beautiful feeling."

Here’s a graph that explains what occurs when we rise and fall in levels of consciousness. When we are upset, we hear insults when the speaker did not intend to insult us. The reverse is true as well; if we speak when we are upset, we risk insulting someone we would never think of insulting when we were in a better frame of mind – sometimes referred to as being in our “right mind.” At the other end of the spectrum, in higher levels of consciousness, we recognize that the person speaking to us in a bad tone is in a bad state of mind, we see their innocence, so we don’t take it personally. At the top, we on the top of our game and we can listen with love. It’s as though we take the speaker in, with full clarity, no agenda, no judgment.

When a person (friend, spouse, significant other, relative, employee, or boss) is making a point they feel passionate about (no matter what the point is) if the listener is in a state of mind that is receptive it will help the speaker get their point out and move on. 

Being in receptive listening mode does not mean agreeing with the person's point. This is very important to understand. Just be neutral; don't care about the point, care about the person. The fact that he or she is having strong feelings about something means they want to be heard. They don't want an answer and they certainly do not want to listen to someone trying to change their mind. You their mind. You'd be amazed how often that occurs. ridiculous but if you were in my position listening to countless couples try to do this you'd realize how common it is for people to actually attempt to change the mind of a person who is passionate about their view in that very moment.

When you look at it from the perspective of PROCESS of thinking (how we think) rather than the CONTENT of thoughts (what we’re thinking) you realize how illogical it is to try to change someone’s mind while they are giving you what their mind is firmly planted in, yet it happens between people all the time! How topsy turvy is that? All it takes is receptive communication (open, deep listening) to set it all right. It is always possible to listen, out of love for the speaker, even when they are out of sorts. Listening in a receptive mode will offer the best communication and the best relatedness.