A couple of years ago I enrolled in a coaching course with Coaching Development1. It cost a fair whack and, even though I was unable to complete the course due to the severe decline in my mental health at the time, I still maintain that it’s the best money I’ve ever spent, and what I learned has stuck with me and essentially guided me towards a different path through life that I would otherwise never have taken. The lack of credential means I can’t practice as a coach, but the skills acquired are a great benefit to any communication driven profession, especially ones where conflict can easily brew up.
Out of all of the things I picked up during those five months, one of a few quotes still stands out with me:
Sometimes all somebody needs is a damn good listening to
–Colin Brett, 2018
To be fair, the first thing I think of whenever I hear “damn good” anything is Special Agent Dale Cooper ordering a cherry pie and a coffee. But I hold Twin Peaks close to my heart; you won’t find any other television like it.
Seriously though, I’m the sort of person who genuinely enjoys hearing people out. There are so many ways we as human beings can connect on this mortal coil–we can do it romantically, sexually, as friends or confidantes–and while I’m as fond of romance and carnal pleasures as anyone else is, there are few things more satisfying, more fulfilling, than a damn good listening session. It’s essentially a meditation, except that you’re clearing your mind of thoughts so that you can make space to to allow the other person’s thoughts and feelings in, judgment free.
So many problems we have as individual people exist and grow out of proportion because the space or audience required to express those feelings was never up for offer. Raw emotions are dismissed, ignored, and twisted away from their original intent all the time, and all that arises from it is frustration, resentment, and in the worst case, the realisation of emotional abuse.
For example, I was first diagnosed as clinically depressed back in 2010 after breaking up with my ex-girlfriend at the time. I lost her, and the dog who’d been with me for most of my entire life, since I was maybe 2 years old, died at the age of 21. That’s crazy for a dog, but the loss hurt like nothing else. And my grandad died and I dropped out of uni just before the final exams. But really my dog Suki welcoming the afterlife was the straw that broke the camel’s back. My mum understood, and she came to the doctor with me for emotional support. My dad, upon hearing about it, made it all about himself. Told me I’m living a shit life, it’s always been shit, and he should have done more to make it not shit.
He wasn’t listening at all, he just took my extreme vulnerability and swapped it in for his own so he could go on about being a bad father. I must have spent more time listening to him and reassuring him, as if I just announced I had late stage cancer and had a few months to live.
The problem, if you haven’t noticed it already, is that kind of approach only serves to push someone away. Why would you share your most intimate feelings or secrets with someone if all they will do is turn it into a problem of their own? As if everything is about them and not about you?
To bring it back to now: the beauty of listening, the sheer magnificence of it, is that it helps build a truly priceless amount of trust and depth in your connection to the person sharing with you. It takes a lot to hear someone out without interjecting, but it also means a lot to receive it when you want to share too. Compassion and empathy are in short supply in general, yet they are ultimately powerful and transformative when offered.
To wrap this up; sometimes the best, most enlightening conversations are the ones where you don’t say anything.