Listening better

Being a better listener is a skill. It is one that I work on, especially as I have found myself disengaging from conversations. This dates back to my youth.

When I catch myself doing this, the first voice that comes in my head is another me that judges my disengagement. This voice too dates back to my youth. This larger issue is one I am working on and while it is going to be a long process, I realised something.

When I disengage, it is often when I have an immediate and visceral opinion/stance. And actually, this applies when I am engaged as well. When that stance is formed, I am not listening as completely as I was before that formation.

Depending on processes too complicated to explain with too many variables and memories, all of us have this opinion/stance/like/dislike formation.

What seems to happen is we push this stance on the other person.

Whichever way it goes, open-hearted listening has taken a hit. You end up rejecting and not listening. Or you end up accepting without contemplating.


Self-judgment is a topic I visit with my therapist in regular intervals.  And something they said has got me to look past superficial layers in my process.

So far, my process has been to have a visceral reaction. And if it is negative, be an ass to myself for judging the conversation. Or if it is positive, pay too much heed to the subject being said without holding it with curiosity.

There's a reason blindspots are, well, in one's blind spot.

Why is this self-judgment and not a case of me being a snob? I am not judging the people around me. It isn't a case of me saying "they are boring." but "I cannot bring myself to talk/listen around this topic at this moment."

A visceral feeling/emotion/thought reaction has happened that taints the perspective with which I can continue this conversation. Or participate in this.

Listening has reduced

Whichever way it goes, positive or negative, listening has reduced.The negatively tainted judgment is a vicious and negative loop. The positive one could also be detrimental in ways I don't realise.

While the issue of self-judgment is the harder problem and one that I work on, I realised there are other lessons here.

Where does the reaction come from?

The voice inside your head is not yours
It's an imitation of the voices from before
Repeating on a loop inside your quiet core
Receiving since your youth
When your choices weren't even yours

The above is an excerpt from a poem by In-Q.

Why do I have these beliefs and opinions?

Where do these visceral reactions come from?

Are they true?

Are they relevant?

While a lot of these 'shortcuts' are essential to our survival (see danger = get the fuck out of there. Versus "hmm, let me analyse this for 5 minutes."),  not all the time.

Ideas are useful. Ideologies are restrictive. Useful. But restrictive.

My opinions and previous learnings are ideas. They are a torch to find a path. They are not the path itself.

So, I spent some time digging deeper into this arising.

And here's my current plan of action.

  • When this reaction/opinion formation occurs, I mark it. I mentally log it.
  • I let it go (do my best to) and dive back into the conversation with as much open-heartedness as possible.
  • And if I cannot, well, it happens. I attempt to not be an ass to myself.

When I sit down to journal my day, I log these events/opinions.Why do I like them or are attracted to them?Why do I dislike them? Why did I react that way?If I was not able to pause and distance myself, well, that's a learning too.

One obvious (not to me) realisation was all of these are about me. And not about the other person/object at all.

Work in progress

A note before we close this out. In case all of this comes across as if I am well "put together" and I get every rep right, well haha.

Far from it. In fact, I don't know how many reps I get wrong.

This post is inspired by getting one rep wrong and sitting with it.

I was at dinner with my wife and a few close friends. And despite my attempts to stay "in the conversation", I disengaged.

Self-criticism doesn't work.

But that doesn't mean the episode is useless. Well, it is, if I am oblivious of it. Which is why I said I am not sure how many reps I get wrong.

But as self-awareness increases and having good people around me who call me out with kindness, this is less of a problem.

Everything is a rep.

Everything is a learning opportunity.

And sometimes that sounds overwhelming.

But even that's a stance which one doesn't need to hold on to.

I am a work in progress. And that's the fun part.