It’s usually very easy for us, sometimes even fun, to lend a compassionate ear to someone griping about other people. This type of conversation usually increases feelings of connection and solidarity by creating an ‘us versus them’ mentality.
But when these gripes and complaints are directed towards us the mood changes. Instead of feeling closer we feel pulled apart, and we feel compelled to respond by defending our position or by hurling our own gripes and complaints back. Defensiveness is a natural response, especially when we believe that wrong perceptions are in play and that we do not deserve the criticism coming our way.
Cultivating the practice of deep listening in your important relationships can help distract you from coming to your own defense right away, instead only considering an encounter successful if you have really listened without trying to correct. You will have time to correct misconceptions later but doing so in the moment invariably breaks down communication, even though you think you are trying to make this communication more clear.
Thich Nhat Hanh explains that the practice of deep listening is about relieving suffering. If someone feels a lot of negative energy towards you, even if perceptions are wrong, allowing them to get this energy off their chest will reduce their suffering. We would add that psychologically speaking, if your goal is to get to the truth it doesn’t really matter if perceptions are biased, because your deep listening will give you important insights about the way someone sees the world and you. You can learn just as much from a bias as you can from objective truth if you situate this information within the context of a life situation.
Deep listening is not always easy but it always ends up strengthening relationships because when you really feel heard you feel closer to the person who has heard you. And the only reliable way to correct misconceptions is by allowing them to be fully voiced, not by building a wall to protect yourself.