The importance of the gift of listening simply cannot be overstated. This art form is missing from far too many relationships. In my line of work, I often wonder how many divorces could have been avoided if one or both spouses had taken the time to truly slow down and listen to what the other one was trying to say – sometimes without using words.
There are Two Parts to a Conversation.
Both participants in a conversation should be as actively engaged in listening as they are in talking. All too often during a conversation, the person not talking is already thinking about his or her response, or remembering everything on a “to do” list, rather than focusing on the words (and the meaning behind them) coming out of the other person’s mouth. We have all been guilty of this at one time or another.
Listening does not come as naturally to many people as speaking does. This may go back to childhood, when we used our first words to express our needs and wants, and often cried if we did not get our way. But just because listening may not come as easily does not mean it is not a skill that can be learned. To become good at any art form, one must study and observe, then practice. Over time, and with a patient teacher, improvement will be seen.
Listening Does Not Necessarily Mean Agreeing.
I should be clear about one thing: listening carefully to someone does not mean you have to agree with what they are saying, or reach the same conclusion.
Anyone who has been the parent of a teenager has likely been the recipient of this accusation: “You just don’t understand me!” What your teen is really saying is that if you truly understood where they were coming from, you would side with them.
A spouse involved in a fight might, out of frustration, explode, “You’re not listening to me!” In the heat of the moment, what s/he is expressing is that if the other spouse was really taking the time to hear what was being said, s/he would be in agreement.
All too often, whether in politics or personal relationships, we jump to the conclusion that if someone does not agree 100% with you, then they are 100% in the wrong.
Part of being good at relationships is gaining the maturity to know that two people can “agree to disagree” – and still appreciate that an effort was made to truly listen to and understand each other.
At the end of the day, what is more important – preserving the relationship or proving that you’re right?
Why Listening Matters
The only way for true understanding to be reached between two people is if they put everything else aside and take the time to truly listen. The courtesy and respect implicit in giving someone else your undivided attention means you are consciously building a bridge between the two of you that is intended to strengthen the relationship.
We all know how frustrating it can be in an argument when someone tries to tell you how you feel or what you really mean. On the other hand, when someone takes the time to ask you how you feel or what you mean, you feel validated. This person is acknowledging that you are entitled to your own opinion and that your perspective has been taken into consideration.
Just as there is immense value in having someone listen to you, remember to extend the same courtesy to the person on the other end of your conversation. The timing may not always be right for you to drop everything to listen – this is often the case when small children want your full attention – but if you are too busy at the moment, reassure the individual that you will make the time as soon as you are able.
How to Listen as a Divorce Professional
My role as a Mediator or Collaborative Practitioner is to remain neutral as I listen to both parties explain their sides. That does not mean I may not agree more with one than the other in certain respects – after all, I am human. But my personal opinions do not play a factor in the outcome, nor do they interfere with the professional hat I wear.
My goal is to find out the priorities of both parties and help them get there. If I know that having security in retirement is of primary importance for one person, and that a having steady cash flow in the present is key for the other, I will work with both to negotiate, compromise, and find common ground so they can move forward.
Helping my clients to listen better is also an important part of my role. This is essential both to facilitate the negotiations and, when an ongoing relationship is necessary (such as when there are children), to establish “ground rules” for addressing future concerns.
No matter where you are at with your closest relationships, you can give them a new breath of fresh air by beginning to practice the art of listening more conscientiously.