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Each day, I spend hours listening to others tell me stories about their lives. I'm profoundly honored to be privy to these intimate details, which include struggles inherent to the human experience - relationship challenges; loss; the search for meaning and a sense of purpose; the desire for love, connection and belonging; and the feelings of depression or anxiety that commonly are associated with navigating these issues.
I listen intently as I attempt to find themes and connections in what is shared before reflecting back what I think I've heard.
I am a counselor.
My work has taught me about the healing power of listening. Throughout my career, I've witnessed individuals make incredible transformations, and I'm convinced that feeling heard somehow played a critical role in their process of change. I also know that as I've navigated my own hurdles in life, feeling listened to - and genuinely heard - has felt like a precious gift.
Regularly, I'm struck by the number of people I meet who report not feeling heard by those with whom they are closest. It makes me wonder how we got to this place. Why has the art of listening become such a challenge?
True listening requires a willingness to focus and be fully present with another human being. It requires patience and the ability to quiet our own mental chatter. I've learned that it's often as much about what isn't said as the words that are spoken. Listening is simple, but it requires that we be intentional.
Many of us spend our lives buzzing around, juggling multiple roles and tasks, as we conduct much of our communication via technology rather than in face-to-face conversation. It's not uncommon to walk into a restaurant and notice a group of people sitting at a table appearing disengaged and absorbed with their phones. This scene appears tremendously lonely.
Tweeting has become the new platform for expressing feelings and ideas, while texting has become the norm for working out everything from dinner or travel plans to interpersonal dynamics and relationship woes. No doubt these so-called advances in technology have taken a toll on our capacity to communicate, and to listen.
What might happen if we put our phones away? How might this change the quality of our relationships?
So, here is where I'd like to offer readers a challenge. Today, I'd like you to practice listening. Maybe it looks like sitting through dinner without your phone. Maybe it means inviting a friend for a walk or a cup of coffee, and paying attention to your friend's words without focusing on your internal dialogue.
Or maybe it simply means practicing ways to be more present in your life. Sit quietly and pay attention to your surroundings. What do you hear?
Laura Thompson, Ph.D., is a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) and affiliate faculty member in the Master of Arts in Counseling Program (MAC) at Regis University. For more information about the university or its Cultivate Health program, visit www.regis.edu.
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