Being Effective With People: Part 1 (Listening)
Being effective in life requires being effective with people. Almost everything in life worth accomplishing involves being effective with people. Our ability to be effective with people plays a huge role in fulfilling our life vision and achieving our goals, from finding the perfect job to finding the perfect mate; from negotiating a deal on a major purchase to running a company or providing for a family.
Unfortunately, many people subscribe to the notion that being effective with people is something you’re either born with or you’re not. In actuality, anyone can learn to be effective with people if they care to. Being effective with people is a skill that can be learned. This is both the good news and the bad news. Like any skill, this one requires practice, dedication, patience, and some risk.
There are many qualities and characteristics we can adopt and practice to make us more effective with people. I’ve chosen just a few to write about, but I think they’re all extremely powerful qualities and they’ve made a difference in my life when I’ve practiced them.
The first of these qualities is the ability to listen. While every single one of us possesses the ability to listen, it’s really staggering how little listening we actually do. We do a lot of waiting for people to stop talking so we can say what we want to say, but that’s different from listening. Listening means more than being quiet, or simply hearing what someone else is saying. Listening means being open and available to receive someone else’s communication completely. If you’re busy thinking of what you want to say while someone is talking to you, you can’t possibly be available to receive their communication. Being available to receive someone else’s communication means we are unclouded by our own thoughts, emotions, judgments, or assumptions. When we cultivate the ability to listen, we begin to hear other people in a new way. We begin to hear what they’re really saying, instead of hearing our own thoughts, emotions, judgments, and assumptions about what they’re saying. Listening in this way opens doors and builds trust.
When people experience being listened to in this way, something very profound happens. To understand what happens, we have to relate to communication in a new and different way. In many ancient spiritual and medicinal teachings from different parts of the world, human beings are said to be made up of more than just physical matter. In Chinese medicine, in Native American medicine, and in many types of Yoga, people are actually viewed as manifestations of energy. Our physical bodies are said to be only one layer of our entire being. The other layers correspond to mental, emotional, spiritual, and universal realms of consciousness. This may be quite a leap for some of us to take in terms of our own understanding of human existence, and I’m not asking anyone to take that leap on my account. My point in mentioning these ancient systems is that metaphorically and poetically, they offer a very comprehensible way of relating to oneself as more than just a bag of flesh and bones. This is worth considering while we’re on the subject of communication.
In order to fully understand the difference that listening makes, consider that communication is just an exchange of energy. As you speak, energy moves from somewhere inside you and flows toward whoever is listening. If they are actually listening in the way I talked about earlier, free of their own thoughts, emotions, judgments, and assumptions, that energy is released completely through your communication. We’ve all had the experience of being listened to in this way. These are the conversations that leave you with the feeling of a weight having been lifted. You can tell when someone is an accomplished listener because you experience being heard completely. Conversely, when someone is listening through the filter of their own thoughts, emotions, judgments, and assumptions, the energy of your communication is not released, but rather deflected. Instead of the feeling of freedom you get when someone has completely received the energy of your communication, you have a feeling of pressure and frustration. The energy of your communication, instead of being released, returns to the world of your thoughts, bouncing around inside your head without an exit. The more this happens, the more thoughts you have bouncing around inside your head with no exit, and the louder and more chaotic it gets in there.
When we cultivate our ability to listen, we give people the profound gift of releasing the energy of their thoughts through communication. By listening in this way, we allow people to free themselves, clear their minds, and return to their own power.