Four Practices of Receptive Listening

In the last post I compared deep listening to the way an archer or baseball player prepares to address their target. In this post, I describe four practices for developing your receptive listening “muscles.” Remember that these are practices, and so they may feel awkward or difficult at first, but keep practicing to improve your listening skills. These also are practices for enhancing intimacy in important relationships, so you’re more likely to practice them with loved ones rather than with your barber or a neutral co-worker.

The first step to being deeply receptive is to ground your point of view…ground your ego. Know that your point of view will be there for you when you need it. This is not a punishment for your ego. Your perspective does not have to change unless or until it is ready, and it will have a chance to voice it’s point of view later in the conversation (if it hasn’t done so already). So while you are listening, let your ego perspective hang out in a comfortable corner of your mind…perhaps down by your feet, which can be a solid-feeling place in your mind-body. Your point of view does not need to be defended because it is already in a comfortable, secure place. Really, who will look for it down by your feet?! (I realize this may sound ridiculous, but try it out a few times and see what happens).

Next, move into a receptive posture. Turn toward your partner…even a little bit or just in your imagination if they are in a different location than you. Plant your feet firmly on the ground. Align your knees over your feet, your hips over your knees, shoulders over hips, and head over shoulders.  Relax a little. Let your shoulders fall back and relax. Consider turning your palms slightly toward your conversation partner, or hold them loosely, as if you are ready to “catch and gently hold” what she shares. Allow the corners of your mouth to lift upward ever so slightly into a Mona Lisa smile.

Third, activate your Curiosity. This is the Curiosity of a 1-year-old at a toy store or the Curiosity of a bird watcher observing a rare bird species. There is a mixture of wonder, joy, and gratitude for the experience. This kind of Curiosity respects the wholeness or integrity of the object of its attention. It wants to preserve what it experiences.

Finally, remember that at the end of the day, you and your partner are on the same side. Ultimately, the object of the game is to deepen the understanding and affection between you and your partner, even in the midst of disagreement.