I have always loved the word “exquisite” as it is such a unique superlative. It seems to connote a perfection rarely found. Yet there it was in an email paired with an unlikely mate, “listening.” The email announced a workshop at my church titled, “Exquisite Listening.” I was intrigued, because listening has never been my forte. I have been an educator for most of my adult life which means I am a talker, an explainer, an encourager, a questioner, and often a storyteller, but rarely am I an intense listener. Lately listening has become even more challenging due to my age related hearing loss. Even with aids, I have lost the sound of rain on the roof, some bird calls, and can still struggle with women’s and children’s voices. So the thought of being taught to listen exquisitely was tantalizing to say the least.
The workshop presenter was Dr. Ted Klontz. He began by explaining the term, “exquisite listening.” Exquisite is rooted in the Latin verb “exquirere” which means to seek out. In Middle English, exquisite came to mean carefully ascertained or precise. Thus, to listen exquisitely means a listener must actively seek a precise understanding.
Dr. Klontz quickly took us through several practice runs with conversation faux pas or as he aptly named them the “Dirty Dozen.” With random partners we experienced: being interrupted; having another’s opinions forced on us; or we were peppered with so many questions that dialogue stuttered and sometimes stopped.
We then practiced what Dr. Klontz called a “flow.” In our practice, the listener only clarified and summarized. Thus avoiding the pitfalls we’d encountered before. I think one of the most memorable conversations I had was with a man who was divorced and spoke of his struggles to maintain connections with his adult and teenage children. By listening and summarizing, I felt that I was not only able to empathize but also point out all the things he was doing to stay close to his kids. I began to understand that by listening exquisitely, one becomes a guide of sorts…nurturing the flow of words not with interjections and suggestions but with reflection and summary. An exquisite listener mirrors what they hear hopefully allowing the speaker to see their issues in a clearer light. The end result can be a deeper understanding and perhaps clarification of issues for both participants.
A week or so later, I was able to practice my newfound “exquisite listening” skills at a dinner party. The conversation was with a new neighbor whom I’d met a few times before, but this was our first chance to really sit down and talk. The conversation was so stimulating that we lingered at the table long after the dishes were cleared. It was one of those deep thoughtful interchanges that flowed easily and naturally. I went home that evening feeling enriched, encouraged, and buoyed by the possibility of a new friend.
Both of these experiences made me wonder why I do not engage others in conversations more often. Texting, email, and social media seem to have increased our access to each other but at what cost? Don’t we all lose something inherently valuable when we do not converse face to face? Based on my recent experiences, I think we miss a lot. It might be good for all of us to step out of our echo chambers, meet someone new, or get in touch with an old friend for an overdue chat.
A close friend recently sent me the following Rumi quote. I offer it to you in hopes that it might spark a conversation and perhaps some exquisite listening.
“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing
There is a field.
I’ll meet you there.”
©2017 Catherine Hause