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Listening is uncomfortable

Listening to somebody express their needs, their problems, their pain, their frustration or sadness is not easy and it is not fun. It touches your heart, makes you anxious and you want to make it all better.

As soon as possible.

And so you start offering solutions to make the other person feel better…

"Cheer up. Its not so bad."
"Look on the bright side"
"Be grateful. There are so many people who have it much worse"
"Be positive. Its all in your mind."
"Don't be sad (or angry, or upset, or frustrated or whatever). It will get better soon".

A question for you: how is that working out for you and for your relationship?

Does the person thank you for your wisdom, calms down, takes your advice and becomes cheerful?

No, I didn't think so.

Here's the thing: there is a time for listening and a time for offering support, guidance or advice.

And you generally have to do one before you can do the other.

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Why work on listening?

There are many many reasons why it is important to work on our listening skills. Apart from being a key skill in the workplace and in life, it is not an overstatement to say that the art of listening is critical to successful relationships.

Without listening, we have what George Bernard Shaw called "the illusion of communication". We can tell when there exists a lack of listening in a relationship when there are frequent misunderstandings, hurt feelings and feelings of frustration regarding unmet emotional needs.

It is said that being listened to is so much like being loved that most people don't know the difference.

Truly listening to another human being and allowing another person to express themselves without interrupting, judging, refuting, or discounting is a gift of love – a sacred gift - that we can offer.

For the one expressing themselves, being listened to, heard and understood is like emotional oxygen. When the core human need to be listened to and understood is met,...

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Test yourself on your listening skills

How do you know if you listen well or not?

Here are some questions to reflect on.

Do you:

Tend to speak more than others.
Interrupt, and believe this is a natural part of conversation.
Think ahead, finishing peoples sentences for them.
Come to conclusions quickly and form options of what needs to be done before the speaker is finished.

Get impatient if the speaker is slow and taking a while.
Find yourself thinking about what you want to say instead of  concentrating on what the speaker is saying.

Are easily distracted.
Fake attention when listening to others
Make judgments about the speaker.

Want to get to the bottom line quickly.
Want facts rather than ideas.

Are not interested in how people feel, you just want to know what they've done.
Often forget what people told you.
Listen selectively, dipping in and out of attentiveness.

Are more interested in content than feelings.
Don't observe body language and facial expressions, and stare into space while listening.
Tend to listen without...

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How well do you listen?

Turns out that most of us think that we are better listeners than we are.

We may vocally interrupt while the other is speaking, change the conversation to something else, insert our own experience or say something to distract the other person.

And just because our tongues are silent while the other is speaking does not mean that we are actually listening, even though our ears may pick up the sounds emanating from the other person.

The vast majority of us are too busy in our own heads while we are in conversation with someone else. We might be formulating our response, making a witty comeback, poking holes in what the other person is saying, or telling our own counter-story to the story that the other person is telling.

In other words, we are having a conversation with ourselves in our heads while pretending to be listening to the other person.

That is why it is said that a "conversation is a vocal competition in which the one who is catching his breath is called the listener". As we...

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10 tools to calm ourselves

 

Let's review the tools we have explored to become less reactive and to develop emotional and mental balance.

Here they are, available as always, in the Daily Wisdom archives

#1 Aim for mental and emotional balance
#2 Develop a mantra
#3 Be like Teflon
#3 Live in a bubble
#4 Don't take it personally
#5 Be an observer
#6 Have an inner smile
#7 Expand your awareness
#8 Notice the gift of the rain puddle
#9 Seek understanding and be curious
#10 Meditate, even a little

Which have you tried? Which ones are working for you?

Do you have others? If so, do share!

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Meditate, even a little

We cannot really talk about calming down and developing emotional balance without mentioning meditation. So today's practice to develop equanimity is: Learn to meditate, even just a little.

Meditation means so many different things to different people and it is such a deep topic that we won't get into details here, but the essence of meditation is training your mind and your attention, disentangling it from thoughts and emotions and observing one's experience as it happens.

Taking just a few minutes a day to become silence, look inward and tune into what is happening in our internal world can foster peace of mind and the perspective needed for equanimity.

Meditation works best if it is consistently practiced in small doses over time. Think of it like a vitamin and not a Tylenol. Just like a vitamin can increase physical wellbeing and immunity over time, meditation gradually increases emotional wellbeing and stamina.

Meditation practiced consistently over time reprograms our brains...

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Be curious

When someone triggers you, it is easy to slip into judgment, getting on a moralistic high horse, making them the villain of the interaction and yourself the victim.

An effective way to switch out from this (downward) spiral of thinking is to get curious.

Get curious about what in their life or environment could be causing them to act out in this manner.

It is easier to deal with someone's behaviour when you become curious and seek understanding about what could be going on for them.

For bonus points (towards self empowerment and happiness) allow yourself to feel compassion for them. . .

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Expand your awareness

One of the hallmarks of emotional reactivity is that it causes us to have tunnel vision.

When we are in the midst of a reacting to a trigger, our entire attention is focused on the cause of the irritation and upset. As a result of this, we fail to notice everything that is beautiful and good around us.

While there are solid biological reasons for this reaction when we are in the midst of a true life and death situation and need to focus our attention on the threat, this kind of reaction does not serve us well in the vast majority of triggers and upsets that we face in our daily lives. It simply causes us to lose perspective and become reactive.

One of the ways to develop mental and emotional balance is to intentionally expand our awareness to include what is going right around us. When we do this, by definition we put the problem or the irritant in its rightful place.

Expanding our focus is NOT about denying what is bothering us or not dealing with it. It is about having a realistic...

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Have an inner smile

Do you find yourself taking yourself too seriously sometimes? Striving too hard and losing your sense of humour and your perspective?

When this happens, we lose a sense of lightness and joy and fail to appreciate the beauty that is this life.

Having an inner smile means that we greet our experience with kindness, openness and a sense of wonder. As Thich Nhat Hahn says, "You need to smile to your sorrow because you are more than your sorrow."

Holding an inner smile also reminds us to keep a sense of humor and avoid being too hard on ourselves.

Maintaining an inner smile involves intentionally and gently smiling to yourself. It is more of an inner experience than an outward gesture. Of course, it may spill out from your heart onto your lips, and if it does, so much the better!

Let this smile remind you not to strive too hard or to criticize yourself. Allow it make your thoughts, words, and deeds more gentle and accepting. You may begin to notice how human beings can be rather amusing...

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Be an observer

Social science researchers spend a fair bit of time people watching: observing how people behave and interact with each other teaches them a great deal about human behaviour and relationships even without saying a single word to them.

It can be very easy to see for example, if one spouse in a couple is making attempts to connect with the other spouse who may be distracted by their smart phone. While the other is distracted, observers may be able to notice just a hint of sadness when their bid for connection goes unanswered. While the distracted spouse may not understand why their spouse seems distant and upset for the rest of the evening, the observers can better understand the dynamic from their observations.

It is not difficult to see such interactions in others and understand what is going on. It is much more challenging to become an observer of ourselves in this way and it is a very effective way to develop equanimity.

Try this fun exercise: imagine yourself leaving your body,...

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