Listening is a natural instinct, just like eating, breathing, or sleeping. We’re born good listeners, but somewhere along the way most of us forget how to listen. Sometimes it’s safer for us, emotionally, to block out the things around us and close ourselves off.
But when done thoughtfully in safe conditions, listening can be a form of care. It’s a way to make space for people and uplift their voices. Listening helps us become better partners, better coworkers1, better friends—and it even has health benefits. Listening lowers cortisol levels, which helps us to relax, and in turn helps us open up to the listening process.
But there is a reason we don’t listen more: most of us are caught up in various stress responses due to daily pressures in our lives. Individual and collective trauma, illness, corporate burnout, compassion fatigue, and many more obstacles face us each day. Our bodies need to be relaxed in order for us to truly listen—but if we can’t relax, how can we listen?
When you listen to all the parts of yourself, you offer healing and attention to areas that have been ignored. And as you do this for yourself, you practice doing it for others.
This kind of listening has very little to do with sound coming in through the ears. It’s about offering your full presence and attention to the world around you. Begin by offering yourself your full attention.
The best, most time-honored way to deepen your listening is through stillness and relaxation practices. They strengthen an overall orientation toward stillness. Some may work better for you than others.
You can achieve meaningful listening results by practicing one or more of these relaxation exercises, meditations, and breath exercises: