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Listening skills...they matter

How well do you really listen? Listening well and attentively is one of the rarest of the selfless acts we can practice. When you are listening well, you are loving well. Listening is the bedrock of compassion for, unless you listen, you cannot possibly understand what another is going through. Listening well is challenging for most of us. How much more peaceful the world would be if we could all listen with the same enthusiasm as we speak. Unknowable amounts of harm would be avoided if the world had more people who truly listened to understand.

Most of us listen just long enough to respond, interrupt or argue. But in your Harbor Home, you want to listen in order to understand. As The Prayer Of Saint Francis Of Assisi, (circa 1200) so beautifully says, "Oh Divine Master, let me not so much seek to be understood as to understand.". Listening to understand is a great gift that you can give, and a skill that you can learn.

When a child or partner feels as though you are truly listening, they are far more likely to communicate freely and openly. There are many ways that you can help those in your harbor to understand that you really do want to understand what they have to say. In order for the ones you love to know that you are truly listening, there are some listening postures that you can use that will communicate without words the fact that you care enough to hear their words and also their hearts. It may take a bit of practice and discipline, but it will be well rewarded.

The best of these skills are all about body language and countenance. These two things communicate a great deal. In fact, several scholarly studies have suggested that 95% of communication is non verbal in nature, and come directly from your body positioning and your countenance. When you are really listening, you are usually signaling this non verbally. You can learn to intentionally adopt a posture of listening for understanding. Here are some of the clues you can give that you are loving and listening well:

1. The Eyes Have It: Many great minds, from Leonardo Da Vinci to William Shakespeare, have been credited with saying "The eyes are the window to the soul." Jesus said that the eye is the lamp of the body (Matt. 6:22). There is no doubt that a great deal of communication occurs through the eyes. Let us then discuss listening with our eyes. It may seem counter intuitive, but we do, in fact, listen with our eyes. To demonstrate good listening through the eyes practice the skill of looking directly at the one who is speaking. Do this whenever and wherever you are until this becomes second nature to you. In church, in a meeting, in a classroom, or when your child is telling you the plot of their video game fix your eyes directly on the speaker. If your eyes wander or scan the room or look over the shoulder of the speaker, discipline yourself to bring your eyes back to make eye contact with the one you are listening to. Practice this. It is the most important of the listening skills. If you only learn one skill, this is the one to learn.

2. Stay On Your Toes: When you are listening and someone else is speaking, be mindful of where your toes are pointing. It seems inconsequential, but when your toes are pointing toward the speaker, the rest of your body probably is as well. Pointing your toes toward the speaker gives the impression that you are truly engaged. If your toes are pointing away, you appear to be walking away and, therefore, anxious to leave the conversation. When your toes are angled away from the speaker, you are sending the signal that you are more interested in your next activity then in the current conversation. This posture of disinterest shuts off communication, and in your Harbor Home, communication is a very precious commodity. Everyone has voice, and every voice is heard and valued. Listen with your toes. Make this your practice.

3. Head, Shoulders, Neck And Arms: Check in with your arms, shoulders, neck and head. All of these should be as relaxed as possible. When you are listening well, your whole body is facing the speaker, and you have released as much tension as possible. Your shoulders are parallel to the ground and your arms are at your side or in front of you with your hands together. Avoid crossing your arms in front of your body. This is a closed posture that shuts down communication very quickly. A great trick for listening if you are seated at a table is to put your feet flat on the floor and hold your hands, palms up, on your lap. For whatever reason, this posture is calming and promotes a spirit of listening. It is a position of receiving, and helps you hear the message.

4. Your Mouth: It might seem that this could go without saying, but actually it can't. When you are listening, you are not talking. Makes sense, right? Right. But you would be amazed at how many people can not stop talking long enough to listen. I mean, can. not. stop. talking. So let me make this completely crystal clear: if you are listening, do not talk. At all. Just listen. Even when you hear something said that is not true, or unkind, or inaccurate, or not well reasoned, or over emotional, or even a little bit crazy, don't talk. Just wait. Often, people go for so long without being listened to that they just vent for several minutes before they get to their real point. If you can patiently wait it out, they may get there. If not, continue listening until you get an opportunity to kindly break in and help them get back to the point. Then, stop talking. Listen.

5. Your heart: Listening well is an act of the heart as well as the ears, body language and mind. As you are listening to someone, focus your heart on what they are saying. Learn to hear what people want to say but don't. Learn to be compassionate. Everyone has something they need to say and a struggle they are working through. You may be the only one who is offering the one thing that they really need and want: someone who is actually listening.

Becoming a better listening is a giant step toward becoming a more loving spouse, a more patient parent, a more supportive co worker, a more productive leader, and a more valuable member of your community. Listening truly is the definitive act of selfless love. Love well, listen well.

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