Sitting across from a fellow participant, while on a 12-day personal development retreat in the Swiss mountains, I felt confident in my communication skills and ability to listen. I volunteered to listen to her share first, thinking, 'aha I've got this!' A few minutes into listening to her speak, my mind started to come up with all these judgements and solutions to her problems. I knew what her issues were and how to make her life better. And yet, for this exercise I was supposed to only listen and offer reflective statements. I found it frustrating not being able to solve her problems and just stay with listening and reflecting, so a part of me switched off and stopped listening. Then as the exercise continued and we got to reflect on our experience and give each other feedback, it sunk in for me that after those first 2 minutes I hadn't truly been listening to her any more. I had started listening to my thoughts in response to what she was saying and just making a show of listening. And like a balloon, my ill-conceived confidence in my ability to listen suddenly deflated and left me flat. From then with more of a beginners mind and humility, I got to immerse myself in true listening and learning the principles and skills of Transformative Communication.
David Wolf, PhD L.C.S.W., the founder of the spiritually-based transformational programs of Satvatove Institute, teaches that Transformative Communication is a sattvic, communication based approach to self-realisation. He states that 'In sattvic listening we genuinely focus on the other person [...and] are alert and attentive to the other person without motive to coerce or manipulate." While in my situation above I wasn't seeking to coerce or manipulate my fellow participant, yet I wasn't genuinely focusing on her, I was focussing on doing a good job, on solving her problems so I would feel better about myself and wouldn't need to dig into deeper levels of empathy, care and compassion to offer her.
Nor is this to say that there isn't a place for me to share my ideas or solutions, it's just that listening to solve has a different energy and gives a different message than listening to understand. As Zig Ziglar says, “People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care”. And in that exercise, my fellow participant didn't experience that I cared about her, she wasn't interested in hearing my solutions as she hadn't truly felt heard and understood first. So no matter how brilliant or successful my solutions might have been, they were of no use.
Now, more than a decade later and having immersed myself in these areas of training and work, it still serves me well to remember to truly listen with the intention to understand, not counter, be right or be the solution.
“The single most important key to success is to be a good listener.” ~ Kelly Wearstler