Three Pillars (2): Deep Listening

In part two of our series that aims to assist you in engaging with #PledgeToListen, Tarek Mounib asks us to consider the significance of deep listening. Many of us are guilty of fixating on how we come across: how we broadcast information through our speech or appearance. But in a world packed with so many words and images that we have created, it’s perhaps unsurprising that we often overlook the importance of how we receive and process information. Deep Listening is absolutely vital to developing meaningful human connection.

“After the practices of deep listening and loving speech have dissolved bitterness, fear and prejudice, people can begin to communicate with each other. Then reaching peace will be much easier. Peace will become a reality.”

Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh

If there’s anything we need more of in today’s civic and political engagements, it’s fewer disrespectful shouting matches. In a time when our world is experiencing an escalating sense of political polarization and alienation — whether it’s through rival cable news programs, Facebook posts, personal blogs or other forms of social media — we are forced to focus more on what divides us rather than what unifies us.

Deep listening is the antidote for this humanity-wide epidemic.

The truth is, we can’t fake listening, and especially deep listening, because it requires we be fully present so that we may listen below the surface of a person’s words and grasp from where they are coming from. When we do so, instead of judging, mocking, interrupting, yelling, or talking over those with whom we disagree, we respectfully listen across the aisles of diversity and difference.

Deep listening calls on us to develop a heart of open-mindedness, receptivity, patience, generosity, empathy, compassion. By making this effort, we are asking ourselves to suspend our egos, opinions, judgments, and beliefs. This behaviour always results in a clearer understanding of all sides of an issue.

When we sense we are being deeply listened to, we incline towards calmly sharing and debating our differing values and beliefs without placing labels such as ignorant, bigoted, or mean spirited upon those with whom we disagree.

Deep listening to another’s perspective broadens our own. We can then begin to envision the possibility of working together to restore civility and respect. Deep listening across differences, ideologies and identities inspires a culture of communication that allows individuals to work together respectfully, even when they disagree.

As Margaret Wheatley reminds us, “I have learned that when we begin listening to each other...the world begins to change.”

Wondering if you’re a deep listener?

Here is a list of questions to reflect on that we have might shed some light on best practice when making an effort to listen and connect with others.

  • Were there any areas in which I felt stretched beyond my comfort zone when reading about deep listening?
  • What do I experience as the indicators that someone is deeply listening to me?
  • When others are speaking, how do I demonstrate to them that I am fully present to what they are saying?
  • In a face-to-face conversation, do I find myself thinking about something other than what the other person is sharing?
  • When listening to others, do I find myself frequently distracted or impatiently waiting for my turn to speak?
  • What is my understanding about listening to others for the sake of listening itself, rather than for the sake of replying?
  • Do I recognize that deep listening is a form of heartfelt hospitality I extend to others by being fully present to them?
  • Am I easily distracted from listening by the dings and tweets from my cell phone?
  • In what aspects of my life am I aware that I do not practice deep listening?