Conscious communication is a window into the world of our heart and mind – and another’s from their vantage point.
As a tool, it’a a way to manage the energies we bring to our communications, so that we remain consciously aware of what is going on inside of us, our feelings, thoughts, what we want and need, and so on, without getting triggered.
In Part 1 we described eight attributes of a conscious way of talking. In this post, the focus is on attributes of conscious-listening.
Conscious-listening is a way of being intentionally present to see, to know and to recognize our own and another’s felt presence and unique value in the relationship. Safe to say, it’s not possible to authentically love another, without being willing to freely give the essential gift of listening. In other words, if we’re not genuinely listening to another, sooner or later, they will stop listening to us. (They have no choice, it’s physics.)
Listening as critical to healthy relationships?
Listening is perhaps the most critical component of effective communication. That’s because we are hardwired with emotion-drives that propel us to feel known, heard, understood, valued, and so on, aspects of our overarching drive to do more than merely survive life, to also thrive, to matter and meaningfully connect in relation to life around us. In fact, our drive to thrive in life is also critical to our physical health and survival, as stress directly impacts our health, emotional, mental and physical, in negative ways.
As important as it is to resolve past or present problems, for example, when one or both parties lack empathic listening skills, problems quickly rise to the level of seeming “impossible” to solve. Why?
In short, our drives to thrive are emotional and thus also relational in nature, and thus issues cannot be solved with logic (alone). In fact, our attempts to resolve them with “logic” are the cause of much resistance, suffering, confusion, despair, perhaps also loss of hope and feelings of powerlessness.
(It’s physics: For every action there’s an equal and opposite reaction.)
Most emotional distress or overwhelm roots back to blockages or inability to find healthy options to satisfy our core emotion-drives.
One-sided listening (focusing mostly on the concerns of one, and not the other is a very common problem in relationships…) always breaks down eventually (unless of course it’s in the nature of a “working” relationship, such as parent-child, therapist-client, etc.). When our thoughts or views feel dismissed, unimportant, ignored by the other, eventually, our body subconsciously recognizes them as “threats” (eventually even “enemies”), thus, activates our defenses, perhaps for the smallest infractions.
This form of “listening” often stems from fear, shame or guilt shuts, which are emotional states shut down the processes of the frontal cortex. It is not real listening and rather a form of “obeying”; doing what another wants “without questioning” is also obeying and not real respect per se.
The challenges of resolving issues can be lessened considerably when we understand that, ultimately, it is in our highest interest as individuals to consciously act in ways that treat both self and other with dignity, and do so unconditionally. It is the key to growing healthy, vibrant relationships.
There are at least five attributes of conscious-listening:
1. Train your mind to listen with an open heart.
Listening is the part we tend to find most challenging. And yet conscious-listening is incomparably more powerful than force. Failing to see this, we often rely on defensive tactics instead, which are punitive ways and energy-wasting ways of “fighting” to be heard, understood, appreciated. We do not realize the extent to which these actions are what blocks us from getting the love and connection we yearn for in our key relationships. We need a way of listening with an open heart, in which we consciously choose to treat one another with dignity, thus, consciously avoid judgments, accusations, blame, and other anxiety-provoking responses – like the plague. Is it easy? No! The good news? Our brains are hardwired for change. It’s known as plasticity. At any time we choose, and want to do so, we can learn skills and develop our capacity to be intentionally present to listen with our heart, more specifically: to focus on understanding (the heart of) what the other says, such as their positive intentions, not just their words; to be willing to let go of and suspend judgments or doubts; to practice listening objectively, for feelings, emotion-drives, positive intentions, as well as for layers of feelings and drives beneath the feelings, i.e., unfulfilled expectations, wishes, and so on; and last but not least, to believe we can.
2. Be an empathic presence.
To resolve conflict, regardless how intense the disagreement, we need to be willing and open to listening empathically. This allows us to remain connected to our compassion. (For self and other, based on the way our brains are hardwired with mirror-neurons, as compassion seems to be a two-way street.) Place yourself in the other’s shoes, and really look at the world from their perspective, understanding his or her feelings, emotion-dirves. What is the underlying message? This does not mean you need to agree. Just see the world from where they are. When you do, this sends the heart warming messages such as:
“I value you as a person and recognize your unique perspective and experience of the world.”
“You are important to me, you are cared for, you are a real presence in my heart.”
“I believe in you and trust your ability to think, make choices and learn from any mistakes.”
These messages can be conveyed even without saying these words, or any words. Although hearing such words can be powerfully healing, these messages are also expressed by being consciously present, in mind and body, also aware of your body-talk when you are listening, making eye contact, giving your full attention, the look on your face, perhaps touch when appropriate, all show your concern or care.
3. Give empathic responses.
Every communication is a bid for connection. Responses are powerful in that they let the other know whether you are empathically connected or not. When your response communicates you’re not connected to place where you seek to understand the other, you send a message that you do not care. Emotions directly affect your and their physiology, thus your communication. When you are not present, the other feels the disconnect in relation to you, and, unless they are have a set intention to remain aware and present, they can lose their own sense of safety and connection. For example, let’s say Jonathan comes home from work and says the following to his partner Sue: “My boss blasted me in front of my colleagues today!”
Examples of non-empathic responses:
Sue: “Look at you complaining again. Why don’t you just quit?”
Sue: “What did you do to get him angry this time?”
Neither of the above responses are effective. In the first, Sue’s comment dismisses John’s concern, treating him like a child who should stop complaining and grow up. In the second, even worse, the comment accuses, blames and attacks him as a person, sending a message that his effectiveness as a person is in question.
Examples of empathic response:
Sue: “I’m sorry to hear that. That must have been embarrassing.”
Sue: “How insensitive of him. Are you still upset about it?”
Though emotions span a broad range, pitch and depth in intensity and complexity, from the perspective of the body’s autonomic nervous system, ultimately, love and fear are the two main signals or feeling-physiological states of the body. In other words, all feelings root back to either love- or fear-based emotions.
4. Be accepting.
Unconditional acceptance means letting go of judgments of the other as a person. Judging sets a competitive tone that turns conversations into competitions for who is superior and who is inferior, right and who is wrong, good or bad, better or worse, and so on. There are NO winners in these competitions when it comes to family relationships! To stop being judgmental, practice the following (it takes work!): consciously separate the worth and value of a person from their actions or behaviors. While it’s necessary to assess and think of what behaviors are harmful versus enriching, when we attack or condemn a person’s character, we are literally striking lethal blows to the relationship we have (or had). It’s just human nature. Relationships follow laws of physics, such as: For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Although common, it’s unrealistic to attack a person’s worth or capacity as a person, and then expect them to change their behavior, even thank and love us more! People tend to live up to expectations, and we wonder why. Be accepting and believe in others instead. It’s much more powerful than judging. Focus on giving unconditional acceptance instead.
5. Use clarifying questions.
Paraphrasing or repeating back what you say allows you to clarify meanings and understand the other. Sometimes it is necessary to ask questions to clarify meanings, such as “I’m not sure what you mean, can you tell me more about this?” or “What do you mean by ‘too upsetting to deal with’? Asking for addition information not only helps you to better understand the other, it also sends a positive underlying message that “I want to know and value your perspective.” Nothing warms the heart more than sending a message that you value the other by valuing their viewpoint.
Conscious communication is an intention, in challenging moments, to remain empathically connected to self and the other, rather than triggered and defensive. When we feel safe enough to be present, we are more likely to express ourself authentically, and thus more likely to be listened to, validated and valued in return.
It takes courage to consciously love another, as authentic love is more than a feeling, and rather ongoing acts of courage that mutually nourish self and other, as we stretch to be a listening presence, so we may better understand our self and the heart of another, as a non-judging witness to our and their personal concerns, needs, dreams and frustrations, etc.
We can choose to ignore but never change the reality of how we’re hardwired: Our deepest yearnings are to matter, to meaningfully connect, to contribute value in our relationships, and thus at minimum, we yearn to be treated with dignity (especially when upset).
When you talk and listen in ways that stretch you, particularly in moments where you may not “feel” like doing so, you exercise your ability to stretch and courageously develop the capacity to authentically love your self and another.
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From Psych Central's website:
Conscious Communication, 1 of 2: Eight Attributes of Conscious-Talking | Neuroscience and Relationships (February 28, 2013)
Last reviewed: 2 Mar 2013