Most people think that the way to connect with others is to talk to them. It’s a well-practiced behavior, but is in fact, a myth. The way to connect with people is to listen.
There’s an old saying, “We were given one mouth and two ears for a reason.” I always thought that was because listening is harder. In many ways it is, because we must understand how our brain works and over-ride what we have learned.
Listening without an agenda, without a desire to confirm a thought or bias, and without pre-conceived notions of what you will hear is difficult. It requires being aware of your thoughts and setting them aside in the moment.
Listening requires as much as possible coming into a conversation with questions for which you may not have answers. It requires letting go of the desire to be right, to have our thoughts and beliefs confirmed, especially if we want to learn something new, and want to connect.
I heard a cultural anthropologist state, “Humans are addicted to being right.” I had to think about that statement and remember how the brain works. Each time we experience a pleasant event and the connected positive feelings, the brain receives a burst of dopamine.
Think about your experiences in school. Children are rewarded for “good” behavior, whether it is learning how to share and play cooperatively, or passing an exam. We are taught throughout our educational tenure, that with specific behaviors, we will receive rewards.
Each receipt of a reward provides the brain with a burst of dopamine. A neurotransmitter, dopamine mediates pleasure in the brain. Each pleasurable experience creates a desire for more experiences that deliver dopamine. (Dopamine has been shown to be directly related to addictions.)
In other words, we are taught specific behaviors and then rewarded for being “right.” The more I think about this concept, the more I realize why it’s so easy to focus on talking rather than listening.
Yet listening, truly listening to another person, is what enables us to connect at a deeper level. (Neuroscience research indicates that our brains connect and transmit energy to each other.) Humans are designed to connect. It is a survival mechanism.
Oxytocin, another neurotransmitter, is released when humans bond. (New mothers have elevated levels of Oxytocin in their systems which enables them to bond with their babies.)
To listen deeply requires suspension of our agendas, preconceived notions, and letting go of our need to be right. It requires that we create an expectation of discovery and possibility, especially when our previous experience may not have been positive.
I don’t engage in deep listening as often as I would prefer. I get distracted by the noise in my head. (The brain is a very busy and noisy organ.) And I don’t expect to engage in deep listening when I’m standing in the check-out line at the grocery store (that’s where I daydream).
However, when I meet someone new, am working with a client, or am spending time with a loved one, I do pay attention in order to notice if I’m listening for validation of my own thoughts or perceptions.
I then re-direct my brain by asking myself any of these questions for which I don’t have a ready answer: What might I learn in this conversation? What might be a possibility that I haven’t considered? What might be a possibility for a different type of connection?
In other words, I get curious about undiscovered territory and what I can learn by listening. I’m on the hunt for more Oxytocin. I’ll get my Dopamine burst through other experiences.