Real Listening: The Medicine of Being Heard

How often are we able to hear our friends and loved ones share what’s going on for them without immediately trying to solve their problems or fix their dilemmas? When is the last time someone heard your story without immediately super-imposing their own worldview onto it? Can you recall an experience recently when you listened to someone and truly heard them?

When someone shares his or her inner world with us it’s a gift.

You’ve been entrusted with a glimpse of soul when someone pulls back the curtain long enough to reveal their inner workings. When a friend or lover takes the vulnerability leap and shares what’s alive for them, they are rarely looking to have you superimpose your ‘stuff’ onto theirs. People seldom share because they are looking for us to fix their problems for them. 

We do a great disservice to anyone who opens up when we leap right to providing our opinions and solutions. We honor the sharer not only by fully listening, but we also do well to ask permission before offering our perceptions and assessments on what they've shared.

We can ask: Are you open to hearing my perspective about this?

Would you like to hear the solution that comes to mind for me based on what you've said? Is it okay for me to speak to what you’ve shared?

When we impose our perspective without permission, we breach the sharers trust by appropriating their content and making it our own. We are also eclipsing the potent medicine that is available in just offering the sharer the experience of being heard.

Imagine sitting at a table with someone who is creating a drawing or piece of art. You watch them add lines, brush strokes, and color to the page—the content that’s shared belongs to the sharer in much the same way as this work of art does. Just as we wouldn't think to reach across the table and add our own color to the piece without the artists’ permission, we honor the unique worldview and experience of the sharer by asking for their consent before offering our two cents.

Similarly, saying to someone that we’ve been where they are and that we know what they're experiencing or what they need pulls the rug of wisdom and empowerment out from under them.

While we can glean wisdom from each others’ experiences, we are never actually walking the same road in the same way, or having exactly the same life experience as another. And even when it looks similar, the experience and the lesson and purpose it carries, is often totally different.

I’ve had people who’ve never been sick with Lyme (or with anything serious), say to me during my healing journey, “I know exactly what you’re going through.” Really?! You do? These individuals mean well of course, but fail to acknowledge the magnitude of my unique experience and as a result they fail to be truly helpful.

When we are in the thick of an intense experience we often need to share what’s alive for us so that we can better hear our own story. There is a grace in being heard.

It allows us to digest and integrate our experience. Sometimes, the perspective of others can actually muddy our own truth instead of helping us come to clarity.

This is something to sit with. Listening is a practice. As with all things I write about, I write these words not because I’ve got this figured out…actually the opposite. This is something that I’m currently sitting with and reflecting on. Real listening is something I'm practicing and sometimes I really suck at it.

I leave you with this final thought:

When we truly listen to others we give them the gift of better hearing themselves.

© 2014 Marie-Ève Bonneau