Hearing takes place when something disturbs the atmosphere and that disturbance takes the form of pressure waves that strike our ear drums as sound. It’s the way we perceive sound.

Listening is different. It expands on hearing when we pay attention to the meaning of what we hear. For example, a truck just rolled by on the road in front of our house. I (Jim ) heard the noisy rumble, knew what it was, and after that paid no attention whatsoever.

We do that when we’re merely hearing the words someone else is speaking. They’re just vibrations in the atmosphere. We nod, smile, perhaps even respond, but are we listening? Hardly. Listening requires that we become open to the meaning of the other person’s words, that we — in a very real way — enter into the experience those words are meant to convey.

It’s no longer just about sound but about the thoughts, feelings, point of view, expectations, memories, sensations, beliefs — the whole of the other person — or at least as much of the whole as is available in the moment.

Wanting to be understood

One simple way to understand listening is to ask yourself — what do I want from the other person when I want to be understood? What we want most is to be appreciated. Not just heard, technically, but to feel like the other person gets us.

In his book, Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert Heinlein coined the word “grok.” It’s pronounced GRAHK, and it means to understand something so well that you fully absorb it into yourself. You know it through and through. You get it. That’s how we feel when we travel. We grok each other. Therefore there’s no need for many words because we hear and listen — body and being.

Listening is not automatic. It takes practice. It takes intention. The most important quality of listening is that you allow yourself to step aside and be mindful of the other’s experience. That doesn’t mean you have to abandon your own point of view. You merely set it aside for the time you are listening so you can be available to what wants to be communicated.

When you listen, truly listen, the rewards are immediate. Because the better you listen the better you are appreciated. The better you appreciate the other. The better you are connected. The better your relationship.

Relinquish your defenses

One simple and effective way to practice listening is to relinquish your defenses. It goes like this:

When you feel like you need to protect yourself from something your partner is saying or something your partner wants from you, that’s the time to relax your point of view and listen. We know that sounds rather counter-intuitive. But it works. We’re not saying you have to abandon what you’re feeling or thinking. Not at all. In fact you shouldn’t, because that would mean an abdication of self, which leads to resentment and then usually blaming the other person. What you do want to do is relax and just listen to your partner’s point of view.

You will find some truth in what he or she is saying or wanting. Also, because you’re feeling defensive, some part of your position is flawed. If it weren’t, you wouldn’t feel vulnerable, under threat, and needing to defend yourself against your partner. After all, if you were in the right, there would be no need for concern. But defensiveness is always an indication that something about your point of view is not quite on point.

When you are open to your partner, you can discover which aspects of your position need to change — for your own empowered growth AND the betterment of your relationship. And that’s the reward.

You haven’t lost — even if your partner gets what he or she wants — because the change benefits you and it’s for the betterment of your relationship. Listening is about dialogue. Dialogue is about connection. And connection fosters deeper intimacy and a closer bond. That is ultimately very romantic. Start practicing today and let us know what happens!

This article was written by: Judith Sherven (PhD) and James Sniechowski (PhD)

Photo Credit: Mr. Hayata