Being truly present with others is an important dynamic of successful relationships. We build relationships through meaningful conversation. Susan Scott in “Fierce Conversations” says, “Conversation is the relationship.”
When we are present with others, we are in the moment with attention to our actions toward the other person in the conversation. Therefore, we are in relationship when we are in authentic conversation. When we are present in a conversation we do not:
To be present in conversation is to listen in order to understand the other.
Listen to understand
Marcia Reynolds in “The Discomfort Zone,” suggests “three centers of knowing” for meaningful conversation. We listen from our head, heart, and gut to capture meaning. When we listen from our head we hear the literal meaning of the spoken words. We “head listen” at a rational level to solve problems together.
When we listen from our heart, we sense high order emotions such as compassion. We recognize feeling in the words and body language of the other. When we “heart listen” we empathize with the other in what we hear and what we see. We heart listen to relate with the other person.
When we listen from our gut, we intuit emotions or other states of being, which may not be evident in the conversation. We listen for meaning beyond our head and heart. We may sense base level emotions such as fear or confusion. Gut level emotions are survival instincts. Thomas Lewis in “A General Theory of Love,” describes these feelings as "reptilian.” When we “gut listen,” we relate to the other from a primal state, the deepest of the three levels.
How to listen at three levels
Three components of a song may be used to examine how to listen at three levels, as if the other person is sharing a song with us. This approach also gives us a way to respond to what comes up as we listen in this way:
Lyrics tell the story of the song. Words of the song may include techniques such as rhyme and repetition to reinforce listener’s attention. Lyrics are primarily created in the left hemisphere of the brain. To hear lyrics we head listen. When we listen to the other from our head, we hear her story. We listen for logic, the rhyme of her story. We listen for reasoning, through the repetition in her words.
Melody is the song’s tune, the arrangement of notes and voice to reach the heart. Melody and vocals carry the song’s meaning and may be supported by chords and other note arrangements to achieve the composer’s intention. We relate to melody and vocals when we say a song touches us. We may describe vocals with metaphor, such as “the voices of angels.” Metaphor is right brain, abstract thought, the property of the heart. We heart listen for meaning beyond words, the chords that reveal the truth in her story. We listen for unspoken words, the silence between the notes in her melody.
Instrumentation supports melody and vocals at heart and gut levels. When we listen to a bugle play our national anthem, we hear with heart and gut. Now think of percussion expressing the rhythm of a song. Ancient cultures used drums to rally warriors to reach gut level emotions of fear and bravery. We gut listen for intrinsic emotions, the beat of the drums, which accompany her words. We listen for urgency of instruments, the rhythm of her voice and body.
Compose your listening knowledge
Singer, songwriter Jimmy Webb in “Tunesmith – Inside the Art of Songwriting,” says, “A song is a magical marriage between a lyric (some words) and a melody (some notes). It is not a poem. It is not music. It is in this grey area of synthesis of language, rhythm, and sound that some of the most acute of all sensors of human emotions lie.”
In your next conversation, tune in to your sensors of human emotions. Listen at three levels for meaningful conversation to strengthen your relationships.
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Richard Wilberg, MS, PLCC, ACC
Life Coach for Personal Fulfillment and Career Success
About the Author
I write personal essays, creative non-fiction, flash fiction, and self-development articles from my home in Madison, Wisconsin.