I am a builder of women’s communities, places live and online where women can feel safe expressing what’s on their hearts and growing their capacities for love and belonging in all directions.
I’m often asked about how to do this, because I consistently ask women to grow their own local circles and seek out face-to-face communion. It’s natural to want to build a circle around common interests, such as creative endeavors, business masterminding, spirited ritual groups, Full Moon circles, etc.
What I’ve found is that what makes a beautiful circle is not that everyone is similar or practices the same faith. What seems to make the most beautiful and sound circles are women who are dedicated listeners. The downfall of many containers happens when folks are not dedicated to listening to one another or unconscious about what it takes to hold a space sacred.
Sacred space begins with intention. When writing a mission for your group or community, and before you consider sending an invitation to gather, consider including values around listening. What would the circle look like in these terms. If there’s a sharing element, will a talking stick be passed around? Will women truly feel heard when sharing their hearts? Will there be structure or parameters on whether or how feedback is given?
The intimacy of the circle of women, and the rate at trust is built among its members seems to determine it’s value. Women will have a tendency to experience a circle as a lifeline if they feel heard, seen and un-judged. Have you ever been in a circle like this? Have you ever had the joy of showing up exactly as you are, with no expectations for you to be “at a certain level” with something? The language with which you build your invitation can help create a foundation for women to feel safe in before they even arrive at the meeting place. Being a student of the School of Good Listening is all it really takes to build beautiful relationships.
It’s important to understand what makes for dedicated listening. In our increasingly distracted environments, it’s easy to become fragmented in our attention spans to the point where the speaker loses the interest of her listener. We’re all guilty of lazy listening from time to time and you might also want to share listening tips with your loved ones so that you can re-culture for listening as a core value at home and when gathering with others.
Consider what erodes satisfying communication:
- Distractions – Put away media and remember that eye contact counts when listening. Pointing out interesting things while someone is talking can shut all but the most tenacious speakers down. Let the speaker know that they have your undivided attention, especially when her heart is beginning to open up. Try listening with your eyes and see if that helps.
- Interrupting – Especially in our home lives and with children, it’s easy to get caught up in our own thoughts about what’s being spoken about and begin inserting them into the conversation. These ideas can wait until the speaker has indicated that they are complete. Talking sticks, stones, feathers, or other sacred objects help remind the listeners that the speaker has the floor.
- Top Dogging – Some folks relate to others by sharing their own stories and sometimes there can be an element of outdoing the speaker. The listener can diminish the speakers account by telling their story which is bigger, better, more unbelievable, more relevant. This type of one-upping is arrogant and another way to shut down a beautiful communication.
- Boo Birding – Persistent fault-finding with the speaker’s share or trying to “fix” what seems to be her dilemma can feel offensive when feedback and suggestions are not requested. This could be caused by the listeners discomfort or anxiety at the speaker’s share, and it can be helpful to gently remind the listener that one isn’t seeking suggestions or ways to improve the situation. Sometimes folks just need to empty out. It helps us know how we really think and feel about a thing to put it out on the table and receive some empathy around it without being advised.
- Defending – Some listeners may be too ready to take personally what the speaker is talking about, making projections or assumptions about the dilemma having something to do with them. This bad habit doesn’t give the listener or the speaker a chance to develop an understanding for what’s behind the words. Speakers can bear in mind what kind of language puts a listener on the defensive to avoid this sticky and disappointing conversation. Emotional reactions are sometimes indicative that the listener is bringing something to the conversation which does not belong there.
- Frame Your Feedback – Framing is a way to help you shine at listening. Paraphrasing what someone has said shows that you heard them, and skills such as, “What I think I heard you say is that…” or, “Let me know if I’m hearing you correctly…”. Framing responses is the sign of someone who cares about whether they heard the speaker and is willing to be humble.
I think the most helpful thing about making listening a high priority in all relationships is to check in with our style of listening and improve it, rather than pointing out to others where they’re failing. Modeling dedicated listening has a magical way of imprinting on others. It feels really good to be heard, and listening is a gift that keeps on giving. It takes time for those around us to create new habits, so patience and gentle requests which are framed with care are needed to transform and make a new way.
Expecting perfect listening is a set up for disaster, so loosen those expectations and be grateful for anyone making an effort.
Dedicated listening invites more intimacy, more trust, more vulnerability, and more empathy. Who couldn’t use more of those things? Know what you need. Ask for what you want.
Content inspired by SouLodge with Wolf: Honoring Community & Belonging
Image by Morgan Wade