Listen With Heart

When A Man Loves A Woman“I did everything but listen, really listen,” says Michael to his wife, Alice. That’s a defining line at the end of the movie, When a Man Loves a Woman, a movie about a couple nearly torn apart permanently by alcoholism but who finds their way back to each other. In Alice’s recovery from alcoholism, she owns up to her self-loathing that she previously projected onto Michael, and accepts the need to forgive herself for the harm she did to her children and her husband while drunk. On Michael’s part, he realizes in their time apart what she had tried to tell him before—that she is not his problem to fix. He finally wakes up to the fact that he was never truly there for her. Rather, what he actually did “for” her, even if unknowingly, was judge and belittle her.

From the very first time I watched this movie many years ago, it really struck a chord within me. Aside from the coincidence that my first husband’s name also happens to be Michael, his parting comment to me when we split up in 1997 was he wished he had really listened to me before it was too late. While our marriage didn’t fail because of alcoholism, the problematic dynamic between Michael and Alice in that movie hit eerily close to home.

All these years later, I’m thinking of the above line from the movie again. That was prompted by my meditation on Sunday morning to contemplate and write about listening with our heart this week. Listening in general is a critical part of communication and relationships that is often missing. We are blinded by our judgments and busy formulating our response, instead of really hearing what the other person has to say. That runs havoc in relationships, whether at home or at work. In fact, good personal and organizational leadership calls for active listening.

Listen to recognize and understand

Beyond active listening, we need to cultivate our ability to listen with our heart, not just our head. When we listen with our head, we tend to automatically slip into analytic, problem-solving mode. We are ready to look for what’s wrong and chart the course to right it. However, when we listen only with our head, we miss the subtext and emotional undertone of the situation. Also, when we listen only with the unconscious reflex to fix something without being explicitly invited to do so, we risk belittling the person we judge to be having a problem and appear as if we know better than they do about how they feel. Whether at work or at home, this otherwise well-intended behavior can breed resentment that ultimately strangles the relationship.

listening

When we listen with our heart, we connect to the part of us that isn’t conditioned to control but instead is naturally accepting, loving, compassionate and understanding. This part of us isn’t run by ego and doesn’t seek to be the hero/heroine who sees everything and everyone as a project to fix, a problem to solve. This part of us sees the same non-striving part of the other person that doesn’t need to be rescued but just wants to be seen, heard, recognized and understood just as s/he is. This part of us is simply present and says, “I’m here with you and for you in whatever way is meaningful to you.

Listen to offer unconditional acceptance

When we drop our listening from our head to our heart, we are more able to cease judgment and hear what’s really behind the words uttered. When someone says, “I’m fine” but they really are not, they might as well be saying, “I’m not fine, but I’m too scared to admit it to you.” Assuming the problem-solving persona would only intimidate them further and cause them to retreat even more from our judgment. It does not inspire trust in them to confide their vulnerability in us.

Instead, if we simply let them know that we are there for them to listen whenever they want to talk, we offer our acceptance without conditions. Of course, that needs to be sincere, not just a decoy for luring them into sharing so that we can spring into action and give them the benefit of our problem-solving expertise—and inadvertently belittle them in the process, however well-intended our efforts might be. When we listen with our heart, we meet others on their terms. We accept others as they are and where they are, not as/where we believe they should be.

Listen to encourage and empower

encourage

When we listen with our heart, we are saying to others that we recognize, respect and trust them to ask for help if and when they need it. We model for our loved ones, friends and colleagues how to own our 50% of any relationship or exchange under any circumstance without over-stepping our bounds. When we listen without judgment and endeavor to meet others on their terms, we encourage and empower them to develop in their own time their ability to recognize their self-worth. In turn, that enables them to have the confidence to ask for what they need when they need it and to be open to receiving it. We let them know that we are there for them now and in their own rights, not because we believe they cannot thrive without us or that we see them as a personal improvement project.

Listen to love

When we listen with our heart without any agenda to fix or control anyone or anything, we are really saying, “I love you just as you are.” That’s because we aren’t driven by fear to do something to change anyone or anything. When we aren’t in fear, we are in love, and anything we do from this grounding is an expression of love. When we listen with our heart, we aren’t busy striving for anything other than to be there for others. By listening with our heart, we allow love to express itself through us. By listening with our heart, we love without needing to try.

Now, over to you: Would love to hear your take on listening with your heart, including any stories or anecdotes you may care to share.

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Photo credit: http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/

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About Alice Chan, Ph.D.

Dr. Alice Chan is passionate about developing conscious leaders and organizations. Her path to serve her life purpose has included being an award-winning Cornell professor and a leader in the corporate world for nearly 15 years. She’s the author of the book, REACH Your Dreams: Five Steps to be a Conscious Creator in Your Life, and creator of the program, 30 Days to Living Your Best Life. All content on this blog and website is her own, not the opinions of her employer.

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14 comments
DanOestreich
DanOestreich

Such a lovely post.  It seems so true that listening is core.  Yet so often I find in organizations that the listening function died in favor of the "implementing change" function -- the shifts that come from larger corporate goals rather than people themselves attempting to do their level best.  Thanks for a beautiful message.

DrAliceChan
DrAliceChan moderator

@DanOestreichMany thanks, Dan, I almost missed your comment! Yes, in organizations, there's a lot of change in the name of progress and at the expense of really listening to what's happening with the people affected by the change--both within and outside the 4 walls of the org. Thanks again for joining in the conversation and adding your comment.

Samantha_S_Hall
Samantha_S_Hall

Beautiful post Alice.  You summed it up nicely right here: 

When we listen with our heart without any agenda to fix or control anyone or anything, we are really saying, “I love you just as you are.”

I've learned and continue to learn that it is only in that space where we are accepted just as we are that provides the sort of grace we need to let go of damaging habits and programming so we can safely transition to new and healthier ways of being.  i know for myself that when I'm hurting or stuck, I'm already having to use up a ton of my life force energy and if someone comes along with their own controlling agenda, it takes even MORE vital energy protecting myself from what is basically an attack, even if only psychically.  

That said, I'm GREAT at being able to feel when someone is violating my space in that way...NOT so great when it comes to when I've fallen into trying to unconsciously control another.  

Thanks so much for sharing my friend! 

~Samantha 

DrAliceChan
DrAliceChan moderator

@Samantha_S_Hall Many thanks, Samantha! It's true that it's hard for us to let go of old patterns when we're still feeling that we need to put up walls in order to survive. And who amongst us don't have a blind spot for when we inadvertently slip into controlling behavior, especially when we feel threatened somehow? After all, control comes from fear. Always good to have you join the conversation! Thanks again, my friend!

Hiten Vyas
Hiten Vyas

Hi Alice,

Excellent post indeed, my friend.

Listening with our hearts is the purest form of listening. When we listen without judgement, we not only give others the opportunity to be themselves, we also give ourselves the opportunity to meet people at their view of the world. It also is a wonderful feeling for ourselves when others listen to us with their hearts.

Thank you.

DrAliceChan
DrAliceChan moderator

@Hiten Vyas Thanks, Hiten, and, absolutely, we ourselves appreciate so much when others truly listen to us. This is where the Golden Rule works as a reminder, i.e., to listen to others the way we wish to be listened to--with our heart.

karenjolly
karenjolly

Thank you Alice - this comes at such a perfect time. The holidays are a time for listening from the heart. Too often when we get together with family and old friends, we start running old movies of the past. And instead of being in the moment and listening with an open heart, we start putting up walls of defense and hearing only what feeds our old movies.

As you so clearly show us, listening is what truly creates a loving relationship. Without that heartfelt ear of love, our relationships suffer, because so much is said between the lines. I love the movie "When a Man Loves a Woman" - it really hits home about trying to be "the fixer", which only ends up dis-empowering others.  I'm so grateful for this post Alice, as I really want to focus on this through the holidays - especially with my grown kids. They need me to really listen to their hearts, instead of telling them what I think they should do - fixing! I'm sure they will be thanking you for this article too!!! :)

DrAliceChan
DrAliceChan moderator

@karenjolly Karen, you always add so much wisdom and heart to any topic I write about here--thank you! You children are really blessed to have you as a mother, to have such consciousness to love them and let them be. There's a "fixer" in all of us to some extent when it comes to our loved ones. We want to help them avoid hurt, and it's challenging for us to surrender our ego and listen to our heart, which usually tells us to let others be, even if it means letting them make their "mistakes" per our judgment. It has to be extra tough as a parent to adopt that perspective with your children. I applaud your consciousness and intention, Karen!

Lori
Lori

Thanks for this eloquent and detailed reminder Alice! I love this: "when we listen only with the unconscious reflex to fix something without being explicitly invited to do so, we risk belittling the person we judge to be having a problem and appear as if we know better than they do about how they feel."

It's really hard to listen that well when our helping muscle is flexing with responses that could remove another's pain. The cruel irony is that we do tho to people we care about most :o

Lori

DrAliceChan
DrAliceChan moderator

@Lori Thanks, Lori! Yes, we do tend to inadvertently disempower our loved ones the most because we genuinely believe we know better. The intention isn't to harm, but the desire to fix things comes from ego. If we truly listen with our heart, we'd realize that everyone has their own life to live and, yes, their own "mistakes" to make. That's a tough thing for us as human beings to watch others we love do things that ultimately hurt them, and we believe we can save them from that unnecessary pain. Thanks again for chiming in, Lori!

ThinDifference
ThinDifference

Alice, Listening with our hearts may be what makes empathy work. We do gain more understanding but we also gain what we cannot necessarily change, too. Although we all love happy endings, at some point, when listening to our heart, we know there is nothing more we can do other than be present or make a tough decision. I guess listening with our hearts doesn't make anything easier; it just enhances our understanding and may confirm what we need to do next.... Thanks for real, life, insights. Jon

DrAliceChan
DrAliceChan moderator

@ThinDifference Jon, indeed, often times listening with our heart leads us to the conclusion that we can't really do anything and that, as much as we'd like to change something that's going dishearteningly awry, we need to let it be. Yes, genuine listening doesn't necessarily make things easy, but it's what we need to do to honor everyone's path. And also agree that without willingness to do so, we can't truly be empathetic. Thanks for adding to this conversation with your deep insights, Jon!

AlliPolin
AlliPolin

I agree, Alice - listening with our hearts and our heads have two different outcomes and a very different impact on the person that is being heard as well.  It can be hard, after spending a lifetime as a fixer, to let go of the need to fix and just listen and truly be present.  With my Mom, I'll call her because I really want to tell someone what's going on and she starts to tell me what to do.  In the past few years I've cut her off and let her know I just want to be heard... I know what to do and don't need her to fix but to be present with me and help me to look within and deepen my own understanding.  Does not always go perfectly but I love that I can now ask for what I need when I truly want someone to hear me and not just process a solution for me.   thanks!

DrAliceChan
DrAliceChan moderator

@AlliPolin Alli, thanks for sharing your experiences with your mom. I'm sure many can relate to your story. My mother also has a huge "fixer" gene as well, though she also has her moments of recognizing that her kids just need to be listened to sometimes. I think it comes from her having that need as well on top of truly wanting her kids to fix things for her.

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