There seems to be no shortage of talkers in our world. Traditional media, our school systems and our workplaces are all wired to recognize and reward the talkers.
As we continue on our journey to build and strengthen our character in a world that highlights the loud and proud, we don’t want to miss the power of listening to build healthy relationships, open dialogue with those who are hurting and establish the foundation to reach our hopes and dreams.
We all cherish the moment when we are truly being listened to and understood.
In his seminal book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie described listening skills as one of the key attributes to a life of positive impact. There are plenty of “experts” who would described the importance of listening to others as a key ingredient to understand another person and through understanding, we can begin to build better relationships. In addition, I am sure we have all experienced the occasional “aha” moment when we finally shut-up long enough to listen and gained some real insight into understanding another person and why they have a certain point of view or why they took a certain action.
Just recently, some exciting new research has been released that demonstrates the power of our brains to relate to one another when we truly listen. Research out of Princeton being led by neuroscientist Uri Hasson went beyond traditional techniques of simply mapping activity in particular regions of the brain. Dr. Hasson’s research used complex mathematical analyses to map patterns of activity in the brain. The research added the dimension of measuring the relationship between the pattern in one person’s brain and the pattern in another’s.
The research team recorded the brain activity of one person’s brain while they told a story and another person’s brain who was listening. The two brain patterns showed a remarkable degree of correlation. The storyteller had literally gotten in to the listener’s brain and altered it not only on the logic-reasoning parts of the brain, but most importantly, on the emotional part of the brain. By focusing on listening, the listener was able to match the brain of the storyteller. The listener felt the emotions of the storyteller.
The research demonstrated over and over that when you listen to and understand another person, you experience the exact same brain pattern as that person. It is as if you have experienced their experience. The research demonstrated that our brains know little difference between our own experience and one we shared by listening to another. Our brains are impacted the same way. Listening to another person can provide real insight into another person’s journey and help us understand.
In addition to these types of research insights and the so-called “experts” in the field, here are just a few thoughts to reinforce the importance of listening to build healthy relationships:
- Listening is the most simple and powerful way to demonstrate to someone that they matter. Our decision to listen meets a very important psychological need of all of us – to know we matter. Listening does not take a PhD in psychology, an extremely high IQ, or some position in the corner office. All it takes is a simple decision to be silent and give someone our attention.
- As our world continues to grow more intense and complex, before we instinctively move to shout out our “brilliant opinion,” we should first choose to listen. As the research showed, when we listen, we actually feel the experience of the other person. This is a relevant and practical choice for our home, our workplace, and our community. As with many other things, the greatest challenge is often listening to those that are closest to us in our home. We mistakenly think we know them well enough because we have lived with them for so long that we don’t need to listen. In addition, we may have allowed the obstacles of anger, frustration, and apathy to prevent us from listening the other side of the story…and there is always another side to the story.
- For most people, it is our painful experiences that have taught us the most and form the basis for many of the choices we make. However, we typically keep hidden those painful experiences from others. Being a good listener can help build a trusting, non-judgmental, and shame-free atmosphere which can eventually open a door to the sharing of those painful experiences to assist in a greater understanding of one another. Understanding is the foundation for health in our relationships.
Listening, with the intent to understand, is a well-documented and practical approach to improve relationships. As we make the decision to listen, we will build and strengthen our character and Character Creates Opportunity® to build healthy and meaningful relationships.