But if we are honest with ourselves, do we truly listen? Try this. Spend a day, or even a few hours, listening to people. Let their words in, without superimposing your own thoughts. When people talk, they are finding their way around in the dark, exploring what they really mean. The best way to help them explore what they mean is to listen without speaking. Allow yourself to take in what they say without wondering what their main point is. Trust that when they finish talking, you’ll understand. When you feel like finishing a sentence for them – out loud or even in your mind – stop yourself.
It can be amazing to hear what surprises come out of people’s mouths when you allow them to complete their thoughts without interruption. Sometimes you meet an entirely new person! You may realise that when you first got to know this person, what you were actually doing was just confirming your beliefs or expectations about who they were. For example, I worked with a client who believed her new coworker did not like her. Then one day, she listened and let him finish what he was trying to say without prompting or interruption. The co-worker was so relieved that he told her how much he enjoyed working with her.
Our understanding of others can limit what we think we already know. So when you truly listen, the person talking may not match your preconceptions. Then you may find you meet someone much wiser or kinder than you expected.
When we truly listen we lose track of our ideas about who we think people are. We become a true listener when we are genuinely interested; when we open up and shut up (the inner chatter). True listening makes it easier to be truly interested – as a true listener you realise that people have more to offer than you expected.
You may feel disoriented at first, because we all work quite hard to uphold our ideas of who we think we are and other people are. But keep going, because our ideas get in the way of true listening. And maybe, when you truly listen, you will find that you are much wiser and kinder than you realised.