Having the opportunity to reflect on several years of working with individuals and groups—both young and old, I have listened for those experiences of being effective and ineffective. I’ve had plenty of both!
Looking back as recently as this past year while working in a high school, I’ve noticed a few qualities that show up consistently when being effective with people. What makes the biggest difference is the quality of my listening.
One activity I’ve guided people through is an exercise to facilitate a shift from listening to physical qualities to listening from mental/spiritual qualities. Once we complete the exercise, we then have a conversation about labels and the concept of listening through filters.
We use labels as reference points to navigate the geography of human beings. We label people in one way or another. We consciously or unconsciously transpose these labels onto our own life. These labels become the filters through which we listen. We may listen through the filter of someone being a man, women, light skinned, dark skinned, young, old, educated, foolish, learned, disabled, brilliant, arrogant, smart, generous, intense… etc.
If we are going to listen to people through filters (and we will), then let us be proactive and create filters that make a meaningful and worthwhile difference. With practice and patience, seeing and hearing someone as having confidence, courage, intelligence and creativity will move their life (and yours) forward far better than seeing and hearing someone as mentally ill, arrogant or selfish. I remind myself and encourage others to choose one or two mental qualities to use as listening filters. It might be courage and acceptance or being creative and confident. Then, no matter what the short-term result, keep practicing listening through the qualities we have chosen.
In my studies of the non-violent work of Gandhi I came across the concept of “satyagraha” that conveys my experience and effectiveness with my step-daughter over a several year period. Satyagraha is a synthesis of the Sanskrit words Satya (truth) and Agraha (holding firmly to). Truth (satya) implies love, and firmness (agraha) calls forth and serves as a force for change.
Holding firmly to love and with practice and persistence, these qualities begin to show up in those I interact with, and not surprisingly, in my own life. Through the power of listening, we can generate an environment that facilitates the best in our life and the life of others.
This observation is based on training, practice, and a track record that spans many years of demonstrated proof.