Imagine if Red and Blue Discussed Differences Civilly

Are you sick of all the rancor around elections? 
Are your own fists clinched and teeth gnashing in battle against "them?" 
Are you frustrated with government gridlock because each side is so busy blocking the others ideas that little gets negotiated? 
Do you know that negotiation is part of the original democratic process?

Back in the early days of democracy, guys like Aristotle and Plato, and later, Hegel, said that there were skills that a citizen must have to participate in a democracy. They were called "the arts of liberty" (and are where the term "liberal arts" came from.) One of them was the art of the dialectic or discourse, negotiation.

To do this, one person posits his idea, or thesis. Then the other her idea or "anti-thesis." Then they LISTEN, REASON, and weigh one another's ideas to find a third "synthesis" of the best of both of their ideas for the good of the COMMON WEAL(TH) (not the lobbyist's). The idea is they are civil and acknowledge that the other might actually have something worthwhile to say. They don't argue and debate; they negotiate.

At the core of this is the liberal art of listening. Do we all need some lessons in how to be citizens in a democracy? Let's change our ways so we don't suffer through another 18 months of competitive ugliness!


How not to interrupt someone who is talking

When we are interrupted we feel short-changed, disrespected, unheard, and less important in the interrupter's mind than they are. When someone lets us speak without interruption and even gives a little space at the end of what we are saying to make sure we are done, and maybe even asks a question to have us tell them more, we feel really appreciated, validated and heard. 

So why do we interrupt? Sometimes we are impatient. Sometimes we think we know what they are going to say and our mouths just blurt out what the rest of the sentence (which is often wrong) without a filter to stop it. Sometimes we are sick of hearing someone and want them to stop talking. Sometimes we want someone to hear us so badly we can't wait through what they have to say, and so tell them in the middle of their sentence what we are thinking about, however unrelated it might be. And sometimes we weren't really listening to someone, were in our own thoughts and just said the next thing that occurred to us to say. And sometimes we are excited to share commonality with another person, to show how much we are alike, so we interrupt everything they say that triggers a similarity we have. 

We interrupt either because we are excited about someone, not excited at all, not thinking, or are actually feeling negative about someone. The common denominator in each case is that we are consciously or unconsciously trying to show that we are as important or as interesting, if not more so, than another person. Period. 

And the person who has been interrupted feels this. Don't you when you are interrupted?

In order not to interrupt it often takes a making a conscious intention before or during a conversation to give the other person the floor, to let them be the most important or interesting person in that moment, or for quite a few moments. The interesting thing is, when we let someone finish what they have to say, they usually then ask us to share something about us. Then we get a chance to be important and interesting, and respected as well, just because we didn't interrupt. 

Holding Up The Mirrored Bowl

If you're not reflecting back, then you are assuming the majority of what someone says and stand a good chance of getting it wrong, especially if what is said is emotional, detailed or complicated. Many relationships and business deals inexplicably fall apart simply because of assumption piled upon assumption, until there is no way back to what was originally said. 

One of the least used skills of listening is that of reflecting back, actually repeating back to the speaker in a neutral tone what we understand them to be saying. We tend not to do this because it feels a little awkward, possibly insulting. Also, many people who do reflect back use the old therapy language of "What I hear you saying is..." which has become a bit of an irritating cliche.  

Just as in learning any new skill, at first one feels awkward and does things in a rote manner. But once one has it down, saying after an important piece of information is delivered "So, you're saying that..." or simply "You want/think...." An overt statement of "Let me make sure I have what you are saying right because I don't want to assume..." works for most heated or business situations. 

When we do this, the speaker is usually complimented, affirmed and, if emotional, relieved. When we reflect back, we hold up what I call "The Mirrored Bowl;" we hold their story for them and hold it up so they can see it. Not only to we make sure we got it right, but they get to see themselves and what they have said, as well, allowing for correction, or sometimes, tears of relief from having been truly heard. 


Listening IS Loving

When we listen, we are entering into the domaine of love. Listening is one of the primary actions of loving. To deeply listen we have to make the person in front of us, or the bird, or the piece of music, whatever it is we are listening to, the most important being in the world in that moment.

We put aside our petty grievances or busy-ness, and enter into the Present Moment, a bubble in which only we reside together. We protect this space with our undivided attention. We draw forth the other's inner being with our open questions. We open our senses to take in their feelings (but not take them on). We let go of our own agenda and follow theirs, unthreatened, allowing. We go with their flow.

We can give this love to those close to us, or a stranger on the bus in passing. We become love itself when we live in a state of deep listening.
‪#‎theartoflistening‬ ‪#‎listeningskills‬ ‪#‎communication‬ ‪#‎intimacy‬ ‪#‎love‬‪#‎activelistening‬ ‪#‎listeningplanet‬ ‪#‎listeningisloving‬

Listening Through Criticism

I had a sense my client wasn't cool with the plan I had presented. I had taken some risks by doing my presentation more my way than his. And yet, for an excruciating hour over dinner after the presentation, we talked small talk, the elephant sitting in the middle of the table, between platters of Thai food.

In my head I was preparing myself, choosing among a menu of responses for when he started in....

There was Choice # 1. Defensiveness, where I'd explain all the impossible challenges I'd had.

Then #2, Best Defense is a Good Offense, extra spicy, where he hadn't made things clear in the first place.

Then #3, Over-Apology, where I'd come just short of bowing down in supplication.

#4, Total Avoidance, my old standard, make small talk until it was time to go, suddenly remembering the iron I'd left on.

#5, Feigned Apathy, where I'd take it in and pretend not to care (then go home and throw it up).

And then menu item #6, my new standard, Listening Openly, which is often hard to swallow but causes the least indigestion afterwards.

So, during a long, pregnant pause, I leaned forward, got his attention with my eyes, and said, "I'm taking it that my presentation didn't sit too well with you. You want to tell me your thoughts?"

He let out an audible sigh of relief "Can you take some tough talk?"

"Yes, I'm open to hearing." And then I sat back, purposely opened my arms, took a deep breath into my belly and told myself I was going to be all right. "Just listen, reflect back what he says, let him be heard, it isn't going to kill me, not even my ego. We just saw things differently, he is the client, and I have nothing to loose, only to gain, by telling my hair-trigger ego to go for a walk around the block..."

What ensued was an easy conversation where we discovered assumptions we had each made, misunderstandings. different points of view, and a richness of possibilities that had not been there before such honesty. I kept the client, his respect, and my self-respect, as well.
‪#‎theartoflistening‬ ‪#‎listeningskills‬ ‪#‎communication‬ ‪#‎intimacy‬ ‪#‎love‬‪#‎activelistening‬ ‪#‎listeningplanet‬ ‪#‎ilisteningthroughcriticsim‬

Listening to the Call to Go to "Africa"

Yesterday I went for a walk in one of my favorite places, Africa. It's just down the road a bit, wide-open fields surrounded by creek and old firs. I call it "Africa" because of the tall grasses and feeling of being away from it all. I like to walk to the abandoned apple orchard at the far end to read and nap in the deer beds under the wide-open sky. It is a delicious and simple pleasure for me. One I seldom take.

I got out walking in the pink afternoon light, humming, my dog bounding around, and I was hit by how long it had been since I had come here. Months. And WHY NOT? Many times my yearning for wide-open and un-even had nudged me, begging me to get up from the housework or the computer to take this blessed journey, but my clamoring mind couldn't to listen to what that Other Part of me was whispering.

But yesterday I listened. I had a realization that too much of my life I had overridden that quiet little voice full of now, wonder and daring. I interrupted her with emergencies, told her "not now, later," hoped she'd leave me alone so I didn't feel guilty (not forever, I'd hope). But yesterday, she started stomping her feet inside my chest (some call it stress), and I had no choice but to listen.

I have been listening to her since yesterday non-stop. My work is more fun and productive, I am happy to see people, not worried about stuff, I believe I can do what I love. I feel whole, ALL of me engaged in this miraculous adventure of life. And here, now.
‪#‎theartoflistening‬ ‪#‎listeningskills‬ ‪#‎communication‬ ‪#‎intimacy‬ ‪#‎love‬‪#‎activelistening‬ ‪#‎listeningplanet‬ ‪#‎innerpeace‬

Listening, The First Act of the Citizen

I wish I could wave a magic wand and make all the people who are now choosing up sides for the upcoming onslaught of political campaigns, be suddenly measured, respectful, and discerning, but not cruel. I have friends on my FB page from "both sides" of the GPD (Great Political Divide). Just by reading the streams of the sarcastic, inaccurate, hyperbolic, derisive language, each stream a cumulative pile-on of the person(s) targeted, I myself feel hurt. This behavior is hurting us all. We The People can stop this behavior and engage, as good citizens, in a fair, logical conversation where we listen, find what we agree upon, work toward the best of both worlds, without all of this shaming language. --Marcia McReynolds, Listening Planet
‪#‎theartoflistening‬ ‪#‎listeningskills‬ ‪#‎communication‬ ‪#‎civility‬ ‪#‎politicaldebate‬‪#‎artsofliberty‬

Silence, the place to begin

Probably the first practice we can begin to improve our listening skills is to be silent more often.

To simply stop talking and feeling we have to say something at every break in breath or at the end a sentence, or when the other becomes silent, is an excellent way to become more conscious of our listening habits.

How do we do this without feeling weird?

When another person is talking, we can nod more and show attention with our bodies and faces instead of words.

We can catch ourselves when words start to come up and ask if the words are about us or the person speaking. If what we are about to say would shift the focus from the other to us, then we pull the words back in. If something slips out, we can say "Never mind. Go on. Tell me more about..." and then listen openly and silently.

If the other person gets silent, and we become uncomfortable, we can take a deep breath, focus on bringing space and compassion into our chests/hearts, and be with the other person energetically.

What's the payback for being silent more?

When we don't fill in the gaps, the other person has space to roam within themselves, not taken off their own mind map by our detours. They get to discover themselves spurred by our silent witness to their process.

Silence creates peace and space in a conversation, softening anger and confusion. When our heads aren't speaking words, we are able to sink into a feeling space and support the other person emotionally as well as get in touch with what they are feeling.

When we are silent together we can hear each other's hearts rather than the clamor of our heads.

Curiosity vs Battling

Quite often we listen for ammunition. We listen while inwardly keeping score of how many ways the other person differs from our own point of view--is "wrong"--and then we clobber them, however subtly, with our rebuttals and proofs that what they are saying is not right. Conversations become duels, each person asserting his and her right-ness, shutting the other person down. If things remain this way too long, contempt eventually locks us in its inescapable knot until the only way to escape is to cut the relationship. "An eye for an eye and soon the whole world is blind." (M.K. Gandhi)

When we travel or see a movie, we usually open to the experience like curious children, wondering what's happening around the next corner, in the next scene, excited to see something new and surprising. And yet with those we know well, or strangers we stereotype, we anticipate what they are going to say and begin the argument before they have even finished a sentence.

What would happen if tonight, tomorrow, we decided to do something different with those we argue with or think we know so well. What if instead we just got curious about who this person is and what he thinks? When they say something that isn't our way of seeing things, we can ask them, kindly, to "tell me more about that, please? I am genuinely curious to understand your perspective." Who knows, they might get curious in return...

‪#‎listen‬ ‪#‎listeningplanet‬  ‪#‎listening‬ ‪#‎listeningplanet‬ ‪#‎listeningskills‬ ‪#‎theartoflistening‬ ‪#‎love‬ #couplesfighting


Allowing for Silence


You're out in a wide field just covered with fresh snow. Or you're lying out away from city lights under the stars. Or you're the only one awake in the house in the quiet hours before sunrise.

Imagine yourself in one of those places. Take a moment....

What do you feel inside you? What's happening in your head? silent.

Hold onto this feeling now as you imagine someone talking to you, sharing their story with you perhaps. Imagine listening silently with this wide-openness, holding space for them to be fully who they are with you. Imagine them going silent, going within to connect words with feeling, and you remaining silent, allowing them a universe of time to express themselves authentically, encouraged by your witness.

Imagine another holding that silent space for you, listening intently but not interrupting, letting you be who you are, watching you discover yourself.

Imagine what we might be able to offer the world if we were given the silent, encouraging witness we need to express our fuller selves.

~~Marcia McReynolds, Listening Planet

‪#‎listening‬ ‪#‎listeningplanet‬ ‪#‎listeningskills‬ ‪#‎theartoflistening‬ ‪#‎love‬ #allowforsilence


Listening is Social Meditation

Deep listening could be thought of as "social meditation." Listening doesn't just benefit the speaker, it can be experienced as a spiritual practice for the listener.

What it takes to meditate is to get in touch with our breathing, quiet our minds best we can, let go of the outside world, and to focus within, on some object, or on a mantra or prayer.

When we choose to listen deeply to another person, we put aside all of our distractions (yes, the cell phone, laptop, tv get turned off), take a deep breath to clear ourselves, find a quiet place to be, put aside our own thoughts and agenda, and focus entirely on the words, body language, intonation and undercurrent of the person speaking to us. When we practice "social mediation" both the listener and the speaker have an opportunity to become more calm and centered.
‪#‎theartoflistening‬ ‪#‎listeningskills‬ #‎communication‬ ‪#‎intimacy‬ ‪#‎love‬  ‪#‎listeningplanet‬ ‪#‎innerpeace‬

Anger is a lack of understanding.

Listening Planeteers Listening Lessonette #3

"Anger is a lack of understanding," said Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese monk who Martin Luther King nominated for the Nobel Peace prize. He goes on to explain that when we are angry there is usually something we do not understand, about the other person, the situation, or even ourselves.

Many conflicts arise out of mis-understandings, differing perspectives and assumptions. We believe what we think, seldom dropping our pride enoughto see if what we are blaming others for is the truth, or at least the whole truth. The world is a vast, complex place, outside and inside of us. There is ALWAYS something we don't know.

When we are angry, instead of it being a sign we should yell at or blame someone, next time let's see what happens when we ask "What don't I know? What am I assuming? Might there be another way of seeing this situation that is equally valid to my present way of seeing things?"  ‪#‎listeningplanet‬ ‪#‎listeningplaneteers‬


Best Advice is to Listen

Each person is the wisest person he or she knows. We each have inside of us (or outside?) a little voice, wisdom, that knows what course to take, who we are, who we want to be in a situation. But this voice can get drowned out by our fears and mental chatter, and by the cacophony of the world so much that we can't hear our deeper selves. When we listen to one another, we are inviting another's inner wisdom to come to the surface, for the other person to think out loud so they can hear their own inner wisdom. We do not necessarily want to press our own wisdom on them, for it isn't theirs.