I once had a neighbor who came from across the street and said, “I’m curious… I see couples pull up in front of your house fighting and crying and a few hours later they get in the car and spend a few minutes hugging and kissing before leaving. What do you do?!” I laughed and told him “I teach them how to talk without fighting.” That skill includes the importance of deep listening to create emotional connection.
How Does Deep Listening Create Connection?
When you listen to the other with the goal of really understanding their point of view, an emotional connection happens. You don’t have to agree with the other in order for this magic to happen. It’s the experience of being heard and understood that conveys a sense of being valued…loved…connected. Every communication skills program includes some form of this skill because it dependably works to reduce conflict, prepare hearts for successful resolutions, and meets our deep longing to be heard and understood. There are several layers of listening, as illustrated in this image, but only the highest level will produce the deepest emotional connection. (Illustration found in my book, How to Stay Married & Love It! Solving the Puzzle of a SoulMate Marriage
Why doesn’t regular listening work?
With regular listening, we may be listening to the words, but often that is followed by a “Well, let me tell you what happened to me!” Or, “I think you should…” Or, “I disagree. I believe…” In those cases we’re listening while comparing the other’s experience with our own, or just waiting for them to finish so we can have our turn, or evaluating what they’re saying against our own opinions. We’re listening to content, not meaning.
How is deep, empathic listening done?
The skill is simple, but hard to do when we have a strong opposing opinion, or want to “fix it” by giving advice. The effort it takes to listen at this level, however, is so worth it when you sense how deeply meaningful it is to the speaker. In addition, deep listening creates a loving emotional connection between you
When someone wants to tell you something:
1. Stop what you are doing.
2. Face them, looking them in the eyes with a caring, interested expression.
3. Listen carefully, not just to the words, but the emotions behind the words.
4. Stop your inner judge, the critic. This isn’t about you, right now. It’s about understanding the other.
5. In a caring way, repeat back to the other what has been said, including the emotions you notice.
6. Accept correction if you got it wrong and repeat back the correction until you get it right.
7. Do NOT spoil this moment of loving connection by criticizing, arguing, or taking this chance to teach a lesson!
8. By modeling this loving behavior, you are training those around you so that when you need a good listener, they will know how to do it for you!
A personal example
My son was studying to become a paramedic. Thirty-five percent of his class had already washed out. It was grueling to learn all the formulas and procedures. It seemed like there wasn’t enough time in the day to learn everything needed to pass the exams. Once a week or so, I’d get a late night phone call. “Mom, this is so hard. I don’t know if I can do it.” I’d learned this deep listening skill in order to heal my marriage, so I knew this was what he needed. He didn’t need my advice or cheerleading voice. He needed to be heard.
I’d say things like, “I’m sorry this is so hard. It sounds like you’re afraid you can’t pass. It’s scary to think of failing. I’m so sorry, honey. I can understand why you’re overwhelmed and discouraged.” One evening after several minutes of deep listening, he paused and said, “It feels so good for you to feel bad with me.” Deep listening had created a precious emotional connection with my son.
The late Mr. Rogers of children’s programming fame said, “Listening is where love begins.” Believe it! Keep your love feelings alive and vibrant by practicing caring, non-judgmental listening. It will work to calm a cranky child, bring a smile to your favorite squeeze and diffuse an unhappy colleague. Deep listening creates connection. If you need help learning to do this, contact me.
You have my love and support,