Provision #335: Listen Respectfully

Laser Provision

Listen respectfully. Whether you agree or disagree with what the other person is saying, it’s still possible to listen respectfully. Keep silent and listen reflectively until you find at least one thing you can respect. Then say so. You’ll be amazed by the difference this makes.

LifeTrek Provision

I normally do not feature reader replies in the body of the weekly Provision, but one reply to last week’s Provision on listening with an open heart and mind makes for a nice segue into this week’s Provision.

“I really enjoy LifeTrek Provisions,” writes a longtime reader, “and have used many of the suggestions in my day to day life. Thanks to all of you there for your writings.” That said, the reader went on to give us a piece of his mind.

“I found last week’s article on the heart a bit ridiculous as well as fantasy for overzealous, motivation-starved readers. The human organism as a whole is integrated but each organ has its specific function, i.e., the heart for pumping blood and the brain for memory, thought, and systems control. Could you please focus on your legitimate areas of strength and leave the quack metaphysics to the tabloids and talk show hosts? Thanks.”

Now one can hardly fail to notice the irony of someone dismissing the research into the info-energetic wisdom of the heart as “quack metaphysics” in a Provision titled “Listen Openly.” That’s hardly an example of listening openly, especially when there is a growing body of research to review and study among reputable scientists. For those interested in pursuing the matter further, I would encourage you to review the literature referenced in Dr. Pearsall’s book on the subject, The Heart’s Code.

One can also, of course, review the many references to the heart in scripture and spiritual writings. There we read that the heart is the source of integrity, deceit, inclination, prayer, love, hate, courage, fear, joy, grief, willingness, stubbornness, generosity, arrogance, humility, obedience, and defiance. We also read of the heart as being the repository of meaning, purpose, and even of God’s words.

What many are beginning to suspect is that such language is literally true, and not just metaphorically true. In other words, that the heart as an organ, as a particularly rich locus of muscles and nerves, actually has a part to place in memory and motivation. It’s too early to speak of this as proven fact, but if continued research bears out the preliminary indications then the ancients will once again be found to have stolen all our new ideas.

Even though our reader did not listen openly to a different point of view, his reply might not have become the lead-in for this week’s Provision if he had chosen to express his objections in a different way. There are respectful ways to disagree. But talk of “overzealous, motivation-starved readers,” “quack metaphysics,” and illegitimate “tabloids and talk-show hosts” is not the way.

Name calling and put downs do more to break than to facilitate the communication process. If we want to listen well, then we need to listen respectfully. We need to grant that whatever the other person is trying to share, no matter how strange or far-fetched it may sound to our ears, is nevertheless worthy of respectful consideration and response even if we end up unpersuaded.

What we’re talking about here relates to the general breakdown of civility and respect in society at large. From the cradle to the grave, people are becoming increasingly shrill, dismissive, and disrespectful. We see this in the public arena, with terrorism representing one end of an increasingly violent spectrum. But we see this in the private arena as well, with parents and children alike giving up on the possibility of constructive and intimate conversations.

While in Denver attending the annual meeting of the International Coach Federation, I participated in a breakout session on coaching parents and teenagers. Diana Haskins, founder and president of the Parent Coaching Academy (Click), described an effective, seven-step process which begins with respectful listening.

To listen to another person with respect is to recognize their value as a human being and the value of their decisions and behaviors on the trek of life. As such, respect can be offered even through difficulty and disappointment. There is always something to respect when it comes to another person’s journey. In her work with parents, Diana Haskins has discovered that it’s not always easy for parents to listen and communicate respectfully to their children. “We just don’t do that,” was how one mother in the United Kingdom put it to her recently.

Certainly that is the age-old tradition in cultures around the globe. Children are second-class citizens, to be seen and not heard, or even exploited for financial gain and illicit pleasures. Such is the way that we build and perpetuate the hostilities of the ages, from one generation to the next. And then we wonder why the world has become such a difficult and stressful place to live. We reap the harvest that disrespectful listening has sowed.

Fortunately, the downward spiral gets interrupted any time we choose to listen and communicate respectfully. The technique is simple enough, although it may be challenging to practice. First, take five minutes to listen reflectively. Let the other person do most of the talking. Encourage them to tell you the story of what’s going on. Suspend all observation and judgment. Limit your remarks to restatements and paraphrases of what you hear them saying. That will be enough to move the conversation forward.

We discussed this kind of listening, reflective listening, in Provision #330, Click. Now it’s time to take the next step. After five minutes of reflective listening, move on to respectful listening. Find at least one thing in what the other person has shared that you can truly respect, and let them know. Start your sentence with the words, “I respect,” and the rest will follow.

Note that you don’t have to agree with everything they said or did in order to offer your respect. You just have to find that one thing which you do, in fact, respect in order to come into a new relationship with your child or conversation partner.

Recently, my son failed to get his flu shot at college on a particular day because he had too much studying to do for a couple of tests the next day. Now I could have expressed my disappointment that he didn’t get over there or that he hadn’t planned his time better. But instead, I stepped back from that emotion in order to offer my respect for his work ethic in studying and getting good grades. And that made all the difference in the world.

That’s the way it goes with respectful listening. It has the power to transform situations and people. And it doesn’t just work with teenagers. People of all ages yearn for respect. When we listen respectfully, even to those who disappoint, confuse, or disagree with us, we lift them up and establish our relationship on a very different basis.

The same holds true for our self-talk. Those internal, gremlin voices that speak harshly in response to our ideas and actions can be silenced with a dose of respectful listening. Listening for and acknowledging that one thing we can respect has the power to make all the difference in the world. That is my hope and prayer for us all.

Coaching Inquiries: Is there someone in your life who, like Rodney Dangerfield, “gets no respect?” Are you that person? Then how could you listen more respectfully both to yourself and to others?

LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)

Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Formor Email Bob.

First of all, I want to say how meaningful I find your writings. The most recent writings on listening have touched me deeply, and given me much food for thought about what is my place in the world.

And that is truly what is up for me. Both my job and my living situation are ending at the end of this year. And the question about my place in the world, literally and figuratively, is very much “up” for me. It’s as if the Universe is offering me an opportunity by “cleaning the slate” so that “what’s next” can show up.

Or perhaps that’s what I need to choose. At the moment, I’m not sure what it is I have to choose from. I do know the qualities of what I’d like to pursue, and part of those qualities are described in your writings; specifically (and broadly), I want to listen closely and deeply to myself and to the world. And I want to help others to do so. And, I believe I have the capacities to do so. Thanks for the inspiration along the way.

I absolutely LOVED this installment. I am mostly heart centered • and can identify with every word. I truly adore this writing of yours. I wish I knew how to share this with my 16 year old as well as those that often get so defensive. I don’t know of a way to teach them to observe….rather than defend. Thank you — and continue being enlightening and spreading the word • I am literally tickled by this reading.

Your Wellness Pathway on how to swallow pills, Click, works great! Thanks. You may want to start a pill swallowing work shop and infomercial on late night TV? 

May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School
Immediate Past President, International Association of
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

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