When you are in conversation with others are you just hearing the sound or listening for the words? And when you listen are you listening to respond or to understand? You might say what is the difference. It makes a great difference in the conversation and the relationship. Communication is a two-way street and listening well is as important as speaking well.

Listening just to respond is not really listening. It is a sign that we are either in a debate or a therapy session, or perhaps just a gabfest. We may be waiting for an opening to counter the other person’s arguments. We may be eager to share our own stories. Or, to be charitable, we may sincerely want to help but are in fix-it mode. But anyway it happens we are not letting ourselves absorb what the other person is saying and running roughshod over them.

Listening to understand takes time and patience. It takes time to absorb what someone else is sharing. By taking the time to really listen we are giving the gift of time to another, honoring their personal experience, validating it as worthwhile and equal to ourselves. We carve out time in our day to be a friend. Even in the midst of grief people don’t need solutions they just need a soul touch, someone to be there as a listening ear.

Only when we listen to understand can we really know another enough to help. Words often fail, but not all conversation consists of words. Presence is communication and eye contact is also.

Be aware of your intent when listening and also when sharing. Do you feel like others are really listening to you or just ready to respond? Be mindful of how you treat others and surround yourself with people you can share yourself with. It is an important part of communication.