We all seek to be understood, but sometimes we can be so intent on expressing our own points of view that we stop listening ourselves.
Last weekend, as part of the last module in a medical leadership course, I participated in a profound exercise with three other family physicians. We each took turns telling a brief story about a time when we were in conflict-personal or professional.
The three others took on the roles of listeners. One was to listen for facts, the second for feelings and the third for values. At the end of the story, each of the listeners reported back what they had heard from their assigned perspectives.
Listening to the facts seemed easy enough. After all, we do this every day in the clinic. Doctors are known for transcribing detailed notes on the history as explained by the patient, and to show that we're really listening, we'll ask questions to hone out even more detail.
Listening for feelings also came naturally. Physicians are taught early in family practice to attend to patients' personal experience of illness. Medical students around the world are taught patient-centred interviewing with the acronym FIFE (feelings, ideas, functioning and expectations).
In an empathy course I took in my first year of medical school, I learned the power of accurately reflecting back a person's feelings. To feel understood can be the first step towards the relief of suffering.
This was useful in relating better to my patients. Later, it was helpful as a parent. When one of my children was upset, I calmed them by accurately acknowledging the feelings they were experiencing and understanding their point of view.
If you've worked with the public, you already know that you cannot get an irate customer to calm down by telling him to. You must first acknowledge his point of view and his feelings.
Though the facts of the story are clearly explicit. Feelings may not be. Though we may talk specifically about feelings, sometimes they may be better reflected in tone of voice and nonverbal expressions.
Sometimes, as listeners, we have to be tentative in our reflections of emotion. We may not have it right; we may project on the other our own emotions or how we might have responded to the same situation. Yet we are open to correction and therefore better understanding.
The third mode of listening-attending to the other's values-was the most profound aspect of our exercise. These values might include your core beliefs about yourself, the world and others; what you care deeply about, how you find meaning and what a situation represents to you.
Most of this is implicit. We have to read between the lines and listen behind the words we here. Rather than offering a definitive statement, the values listener may instead ask deeper questions to get at the core values.
But to accurately understand another's values and reflect them back is the most powerful way of listening. It brings both listener and speaker to a deeper level of relating and transforms everyday listening to deep listening.
Today, attend to your conversations. How deeply have you been listening? What are the feelings and values you hear in another's words?
Dr. Davidicus Wong is a physician and writer. His column appears regularly in this paper. You can find his posts at davidicuswong. wordpress.com.