Listening from the Heart

My mother, Connie Williams

“But I asked for a Big Roast Beef Sandwich!” my mother complained as she peered into the Arby’s bag.

 “Mom, it IS the Big Roast Beef Sandwich,” I said, rather confused.

 “But I wanted the really big one,” she scowled, holding the sandwich up for inspection.  “This is puny,” she said as she stuffed the sandwich back in the bag, crumpled the bag and tossed it my way.

“Oh. . . .” I grimaced, realizing the problem.  “The choices were Big, Bigger and Biggest.  I just got what you asked for.”

 “But, that’s not what I MEANT!” 

 So began a conversation with my mother in early 2007, shortly after she had come to live with me.  Although we didn’t know it at the time, she had only a few more months to live.  Afflicted with multiple myeloma, a blood cancer, her health had taken a nosedive.  Because of her deteriorating health, she had lost her job, her home, her beloved cats and her ability to drive.  She couldn’t even make her own meals.  Almost all she could do was eat, use the bathroom, watch TV and complain.  We had a lot of conversations like the one about the Arby’s sandwich.

It was frustrating.  She was unreasonable.  She was cranky. She was demanding.

And then it hit me.  I had been listening with my logical self.  I needed to listen from my heart.  Listening from the heart means listening to what isn’t said.  You are listening beyond the words to hear something that’s not being said out loud.  It means letting go of assumptions and agendas and trying to understand the “why” behind the words.

My mother had lost almost everything.  She had become highly dependent on me.  She couldn’t even go to a fast food restaurant and get what she wanted.  Her words reflected a deep pain.  It wasn’t really about the size of a sandwich. 

How do you listen from the heart?

1.  Empty your ego—let go of assumptions, agendas and the need to be right.

 2. Listen empathetically–try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes.  Imagine how you would feel in the same situation.

 3. Respond gently and respectfully

      a.  Give acknowledgement that you heard and understand by reflecting back  or summarizing, for example, “What I hear you saying is . . .”

     b. Encourage expression and clarification by saying things like, “Tell me more about. . .”  or “Help me understand. . .”

In this short video, I continue the story about my mom and how she helped me learn to listen from my heart:

Sometimes, listening from the heart will lead you to act from the heart.  A new friend, Pam Jutila, recently related this story about how listening from her heart resulted in “heart action” that warmed MY heart when she told it to me.

 “About this time last year, my dad was approaching his 69th birthday, and it just seemed like he was down in the dumps a bit.  He had a little less sparkle.  My mom noticed it.  My sister noticed it.  I noticed it .  Little cues here and there.  Little noises about getting older.    His own father had died at 70.  An outsider might have figured it was the weather (January)…the lull after the holidays…maybe it was the flu.  But we knew better.  It’s kind of like when you have kids…outsiders may not notice anything, but you can tell when your child’s a little “off.”  It seemed Dad was wondering:  “Am I significant? Have I made a difference?  Am I valued?”  Dad seemed to be voluntarily taking himself out of the game of Life and putting himself on the bench.

Instead of waiting until his 70th birthday for a special occasion, we decided to make plans for his 69th birthday.  We decided to do a sit-down dinner at my sister’s house.   We asked all the grandkids (from age 11 to age 25) if they’d be willing to write a “Dear Papa” letter about what Grandpa meant to them.  On the day of the party, as we sat down to enjoy a meal together, one of the grandsons, Brad, 19, stood up and pulled out his “Dear Papa” letter, which said, in part:

             “I just wanted to tell you how much you mean in my life and how much you affect my life just by being in it.  Right from when I was a little boy you have been treating me everyday like I was the most important person. Then there were all the times we went golfing and fishing.  I love all the alone time that we have together and the tricks and jokes you play on us all the time. …when people say there is always someone watching…I believe that now.  I have been watching you my whole life and have seen nothing but what a true man looks like.  You are the splitting image of what I hope to be when I grow up.”

           My dad was choked up and thanked Brad.   Then, one grandchild after another stood up to pay tribute to their grandpa.                       

 My dad – their “Papa” – sat at the table with tears streaming unabashedly down his face. 

He totally did not expect this.  He totally needed this.  When the last letter of love was read to my dad, he wiped his eyes and said, “You know, lately, I’ve been wondering if my life counted or mattered.  Now I know I’ve made a difference.  Thank you.”

Make a difference to those around you.  Listen from your heart and take some “heart action.”


About Diane Windingland
I speak for organizations that want their people to have better, more profitable conversations.

One Response to Listening from the Heart

  1. Pingback: The Number One Secret to Captivating Conversations and Memorable Messages « Small Talk, Big Results

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