Guest Post by Keturi DeLong
I can’t begin to describe what’s happening in the world right now, but I do know this: Everyone is on edge. Everything is inflammatory, and everyone is angry. Heck - I’m even angry and I could make a fortune bottling and selling my sunshine. While I wait for a distributor, I want to challenge all of us to do one thing: Listen more. Like, REALLY listen. Whole-hearted listening.
I’m proposing a shift in our orientation to listening. Here’s what you need to say: nothing. Say nothing. Just shut your mouth and listen. Why? Because it’s not “what we say to them.” It’s really about how we listen to them. Not just letting someone be heard. I’m talking about taking listening a step farther.
Yes, people want to feel heard. This diffuses the situation, increases affect, builds trust and rapport… yadda yadda jargon jargon magic fairy dust. This is fake listening. Surface-level listening. Listening is not simply appearing like you are listening and that you care. Fake listening might look like this: You nod your head, lean forward, utter a few “mmhmmms,” ask a barely relevant follow-up question to appear engaged, while inside you are mapping your plan of attack.
That’s not what I’m talking about. That’s just waiting for your turn to talk. That’s not listening— and it shows.
Savvy people sniff out a counterfeit approach. “Fake it till you make it” can only get us so far (trust me, I’ve pushed it to the limits). What we feel inside inevitably makes it to the surface via non-conscious behavioral clues. And an intuitive person can spot the inconsistent messaging between what we project in our body language and what’s really hiding inside.
But what if WE were the ones who could really benefit from listening? What if we have work to do beyond letting someone just let off a little steam? What if we could grow from listening?
Unbiased, honest, authentic curiosity empowers whole-hearted listening.
When we engage our curiosity, we spark an internal drive to seek another’s perspective. As our core motive shifts from defending to inquisitive perspective seeking, our ability to hear improves. We become present: able to observe, listen, and absorb the moment. Only then can we begin to peel back the layers of the proverbial onion (yes, sometimes crying in the process), and truly seek to understand the “why” beyond the surface chat. And if we get to the point where we understand the why behind another’s motives, belief systems, and core values (and I’m talking heavy stuff like past traumas and fears), we get to the good stuff. When approached with curiosity, this new perspective we unearth challenges our assumptions and belief systems.
I find it most difficult to engage our curious spirit when we are faced with a perspective that violently opposes our core values. This is tough (also good stuff). It’s difficult to be curious about hate. And yet, I’m challenging all of us to be curious. At face value, some things may not actually be hate. If we are curious enough we may find that what we are actually witnessing is a display of insecurity, fear or ignorance. And yes, sometimes it really is hate.
And even when it is hate, I’m asking us to dig deeper.
Curiosity breeds curiosity
Whole-hearted listening can be so powerful that it not only changes us, it can change those around us. With a curious core, we can begin to ask questions, and gently lead the other person to begin their curious journey. Perhaps, our whole-hearted listening and kind questions can lead the other person to discover a new point of view. Or ponder another perspective they hadn’t previously considered. This is the ultimate goal— to play a positive role in someone else’s self-discovery and growth. And it starts with a complete shift in our core. We must ground ourselves in curiosity, and approach the world, and others, with whole-hearted curiosity and listening. If curious listening doesn't come naturally to you, check out this question guide I created for my team. It will help you get the conversation started.
So, I’m going to say it—one of the words that was banned from our family home growing up. I could say any four letter word, but I couldn’t say this. I’ve been waiting my entire life to say it: Shut up!
*Full list of banned words from the DeLong household: shut up, hate, should, and can’t
Keturi DeLong is a DRG fan and Vice President for Advancement at Texas A&M University – Commerce (go Lions) and current Chair of CASE District IV (Y’all!).