June 15, 2020 Blog No Comments

Deep listening is a skill desperately needed now as we deal with crisis and public unrest. This became particularly evident when two painful events unfolded around me. I realized I had to move out of my cocoon of familiar thinking and understanding to see the bigger picture of what these events mean. I had to expand my understanding through deep listening.

Here’s my experience:

Last week an African American motorcyclist was killed in a collision with a white SUV driver, who had been drinking. It happened on the corner of my street with a sound that was so horrifying, I was on the scene in minutes. Within days, the pain of the family and friends of the cyclist was folded into Black Lives Matter protests at the site of the accident, with an angry call for equal justice.* It is important to understand why.

In addition, the best friend of someone I know, who had been missing for days, was found dead on the railroad tracks. It was ruled a suicide but was it murder? His stimulus check was stolen by someone hanging around him before he disappeared. Was that a causal factor in his death? They are poor and in their community of friends, money is often a factor in nefarious actions. What is important to understand in this situation?

In the events I have experienced, and in the ongoing public outcry in our nation, I have seen why we need to look beyond the surface to understand the real message. We need to get outside of our usual bubble of understanding to see more.  This is where deep listening comes in. See if these factors of deep listening can help you.

Deep Listening Means:

Understanding the Underlying Message

The pain in both situations I experienced has been visceral. It calls for a response that goes beyond the usual platitudes of “I’m sorry about your loss”, It requires an understanding of why the pain is so difficult and hard to accept for those involved.

There is history to this pain and loss that spans generations. There is mistrust, mistreatment and poverty. There is an expectation that their concerns will once again go unheard, unappreciated and will lead to a failure of justice. This creates a torrent of anger mixed with the pain.

Suspending Judgement

Our usual response to any situation is to listen and quickly form an opinion. We often do this without considering all the details to be well informed, much less to have solid summary judgement. Our snap opinions and the words we say that are often insensitive play into the divisiveness that is harming the greater good of our nation.

Deep listening requires taking in all the details, listening for understanding so that you can engage in a more meaningful way. It suspends judgement and allows for more connection, compassion and greater understanding. It helps people feel heard and understood.

Responding To Other’s Reality

Often we immediately engage in a dialog of right or wrong thinking. We play cop, detective, and judge as we listen to what happened and respond to the details with immediate judgment without appreciating the dark reality that others are experiencing.

Deep listening allows us to step into the other person’s reality to feel it and understand it. The cyclist had 8 children, his loss is huge and raises fears in his community about a potential lack of equal justice. The person who died on the railroad tracks reflects the sad reality of feeling unimportant and unappreciated among people who rarely have a voice.

What can we say to them that communicates something different? I found myself crying as I spoke with the cyclist family – I felt their loss so profoundly all I could do was join them in their sorrow. My friends whose buddy died on the tracks will need a lot of support. Judgement in either situation will only light a fire of more hurt, pain and anger.

We are all challenged to try using deep listening when faced with tough situations. I have attached a few resources if you would like to read more.* If you want to explore this issue for yourself, you are welcome to reach out to me at www.spectrumtransformation.com. My coaching and counseling work is designed to help you experience deep listening and to learn it for yourself.

*Photo – Protest and memorial to fallen motorcyclist, Daezon Morgan 6-11-20

*Resources on Deep Listening:

Huffpost Blog – Deep Listening : https://www.huffpost.com/entry/deep-listening_b_11477900

University of Minnesota Center For Spirituality & Healing – Deep Listening : https://www.csh.umn.edu/education/focus-areas/whole-systems-healing/leadership/deep-listening#:~:text=Deep%20listening%20is%20a%20process,pleasant%2C%20unpleasant%2C%20or%20neutral.


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Written by Connie Milligan, LCSW
If there is anything I’ve expressed that speaks to you, I’d love to hear from you. You can reach me at my email, connie [at] conniemilligan [dot] com