The Act of Listening – How to Conserve your Energy as a Listener
“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply”
- Stephen R. Covey
We were recently interacting in one of the parenting groups we joined on social media when someone replied to a query with the response
“Have you tried exquisite listening?”
As health professionals we are both regularly required to listen to our patients. To do this without the distractions of thought projecting us into the tasks that we need to complete later or the difficult conversation we were engaged in half an hour ago, requires ‘mindful listening.’ This means that in the words of John Kabat Zin - we pay attention to the present moment on purpose without judgement. When we do this, we are truly present and able to be of service. Here is an article we wrote about how to put these principals into practise.
Let us return to the suggestion of exquisite listening. This is a term used in leadership and finance and defined by the Financial Planning Organisation as follows:
With exquisite listening, the listener becomes consumed by the listening process. He shuts out all distractions and has a laser-like focus on what the speaker is saying with a deep curiosity about the feelings, values, goals, and internal conflicts the client is trying to convey.
According to fiancialplanningassosciation.org there are seven steps to achieve this.
Our search then took us further towards a great many varied descriptions of different types of listening. Some of them seem defined by their description alone and some came with more instruction. There also seemed to be some cross-over between certain listening styles. For example, exquisite listening seems to be very much like empathic listening. They included critical listening, sympathetic listening, empathic listening, discriminative listening, informational listening, comprehensive listening, appreciative listening, therapeutic listening and the negative: passive listening, competitive listening and combative listening – phew!
Our previous article and the recent research we have carried out have all focussed on the effect of various listening styles on the one who is talking.
What interests us today is this:
How does a change in listening style affect the listener?
We all know that throughout the day we can feel that our energy is becoming depleted. When we purposefully focus our attention on helping someone, we are consciously choosing to give it away. When we find ourselves unconsciously responding to passive aggression, allowing ourselves to become triggered by the behaviour of someone else or becoming drawn into gossip, we may feel that it is being taken from us by others.
In the following article we discuss the idea choosing to conserve our energy, when appropriate by consciously employing compassion over empathy.
Here we discuss the price of gossip in similar terms.
Now let us consider becoming conscious of what kind of commitment is required of us when we listen.
Must we give our whole Self to the act of listening on every occasion?
Does the person talking always require empathy from us?
We certainly need to be listening mindfully if we are taking down clear instructions where there may be danger; but does a friend who only needs to be witnessed and is venting about something which does not affect us really need so much of our energy?
We may well feel that we want to engage our own emotions when someone we love is sharing a joyous piece of news but do we really need to feel everything when we are listening to catastrophic events unfolding via the news on the radio.
Would it not be wise to become conscious of how much energy we give to the act of listening depending on the circumstances.
In our article ‘Can you Resist the Fix?’ we shared a tool given to us by Heatherash Amara, author of ‘Warrior Goddess Training’ where the ‘talker’ announces their intentions prior to speaking so that the recipient of the information know what kind of response is required of them. This hugely clarifies for the recipient, what is needed and allows them to respond without losing energy by making assumptions.
What if we were able to choose how we listened in the same way.
What if we could keenly observe the content of what we were listening to, and give to it only amount of energy that was required?
This is the opposite side of the vent/advice/share tool.
When you are required to listen, press pause.
Step into the shoes of your Observer Self.
This is the part of the Self that is able to describe how you think, feel and behave without taking part or becoming involved. It is does not require emotion or analysis to observe.
In the shoes of your Observer Self, notice the content of what you are listening to.
Does it immediately affect you?
Does the ‘talker’ require you to be totally present with them?
Do they need you to participate in the discussion?
Are they asking for advice or collaboration?
Are they asking you to be an ally?
Are they asking for empathy or compassion?
Are they sharing something?
Are they informing you of something?
Do they need to know that you have understood?
What do they require from you?
Do they require anything from you at all?
If you are having difficultly making the assessment and it is appropriate to do so, you can ask them to clarify what they need from you. Often people do not know the answer and by asking the question, you are encouraging consciousness within them too.
Having made the assessment as to what your companion needs, you can ask yourself how much you are willing to give.
We are not obliged to enter into the act of listening in a completely unconscious and unlimited way with the needs of the talker at the top of our list of priorities. This is how we become depleted.
Perhaps we have had a difficult day and we need to conserve our energy for our family when we get home. Perhaps we ourselves are battling with bad news and are not fully equipped to listen to gossip.
Once we have made our assessment and decided how committed we feel to the task of listening, we can engage in it with clear intention.
If we are not able to give the ‘talker’ what they need we can communicate that in a clear and respectful way without allowing emotion such as guilt or embarrassment to contaminate the message.
Here are some useful articles about how to communicate without emotion:
We can arrange to have the discussion later or signpost them to alternatives, but we are not obliged to give everyone who engages with us the energy that they are asking for.
For further tools and techniques to build resilience and improve wellbeing see our book