The Incredible Power of Listening


How many of us really know that the way people show up for us is much more a function of how we “listen” for them, than how they really are? This belief can be a “tough sell” for some. I was a psychologist in private practice for years, and often heard clients share some rendition of the following:  “they make me so angry…they make me act this way…I can’t be free until he/she changes…I have no choice…” Many  believe that others can actually “cause” the way they are feeling and behaving. I would listen, and then respond with “unless you can show me there is someone else inside your head, sitting at and operating the control dashboard of your brain, I will never be convinced.” No one was ever able to provide that proof.

Just think about the possible and devastating effects of believing that others have power over you. That one simple belief can contaminate every aspect of your life. A boss looks at you “funny”, a friend doesn’t call, you don’t get the invitation, someone you are with seems angry or disappointed, you wake up on the wrong side of the bed, difficult and unfinished deadlines are approaching, you dread hearing the news, etc. When these things happen, our mind and heart immediately begin to race before we even do an inquiry, and we wonder: What did I do? What did I say? Why are they upset with me? Will I be able to handle this? As humans we seem to automatically make everything about us. This immediate physical and emotional response is called an “amygdala hijack”. The amygdala is very deep inside our brain and handles emotions. When it gets triggered, it can produce an immediate and overwhelming emotional response that seems out of proportion to the stimulus. Thus, the feeling of being emotionally hijacked. We have strong emotional reactions because human beings are “meaning making” machines. Also, we are hard-wired for wanting connection, and are created with a capacity for all emotions. This is not good or bad, it just is. 

Most of this process is “mechanics”. We see every thing and every person through the lens of our filter, and that filter is created by our many years of experiences – the good, the bad, the beautiful and the ugly. It is these experiences that create our outlook from which we view the world and the people in it. If someone asked you to put on a pair of “rose colored” glasses today, and asked you what color you saw, today you would say “rose”. If you wore them for a month, and was asked the same question, you might seem confused and say you are just “seeing” things as they are. You are no longer observing that you are seeing things through a different lens. That’s what our experiences do over time. They create and distort the lens we look through when observing the world, and we then automatically project our own perceptions onto every event. Why do you think there can be 10 viewers of an event, and you can get 10 different versions?

Now I know some people can be very difficult to deal with, for so many reasons, and that some people are just easier to be around than others. I am pretty particular about the people I spend time with and put my energy towards. I know that sometimes it really, really, really “feels” like the way others are being, “causes” us to act and feel in certain ways. While people and events can have an effect on us, we get to decide to what degree this will occur. Many quotes inspire me, and one I particularly like is: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” (Eleanor Roosevelt) Can you imagine how believing and living this could change your life? 

At the heart of what I coach people to do is to seek out ways to practice living as though the following is true: “Be so strong that nothing can disturb your peace of mind. Talk health, happiness, and prosperity to every person you meet. Make all your friends feel there is something special in them. Look at the sunny side of everything. Think only of the best, work only for the best, and expect only the best. Be as enthusiastic about the success of others as you are about your own. Forget the mistakes of the past and press on to the greater achievements of the future. Give everyone a smile. Spend so much time improving yourself that you have no time left to criticize others. Be too big for worry and too noble for anger.” (Christian D. Larsen) Our amygdala hijack reactions can actually be opportunities for us to practice all of the above skills by allowing us to be in the inquiry as to why we reacted a certain way, and thus take steps to continuously “clean off” our lens.

This way of being is a huge task for anyone who takes it on. But think of the possibilities for your life if you actually did. You would never expect to be fit and healthy if you did not have some daily practice of exercise and good nutrition. No matter our intentions, we all need direction, inspiration and action in order to grow. One simple way to begin, is to shift your perspective and practice seeing a situation from another’s point of view and ideally the perspective of all others involved. Quit acting as if any of us can truly know another’s motivations. Remember, you are not inside their heads, stay inside your own and try to understand your own actions. Imagining them trying to make it though this life as we are. Just this shift in perception can open us up to numerous possibilities and expand our vision. It can shift our feelings of anger to compassion and the desire for a positive solution for all involved. 

! think it’s an incredibly brave and optimistic goal to strive to be the person who is able to remain calm, compassionate, helpful, giving, etc, when life comes at them, because they have learned to be the captain of their own brain and developed the freedom to “choose” how they want to be and respond – in any given situation. It doesn’t mean they never fall. When they do, they just keep getting up and trying again. Can you imagine what a difference this would make? We’d all be contributing to the creation of a world where everyone wins…