The Art of Listening

Recently I posted an article describing how the stillness of meditation had opened my ears to the sounds around us that go largely unnoticed. For me it postulated the idea that hearing and listening are two very different things. We hear many things throughout our busy days, but rarely are we actively listening.

This difference becomes most obvious when viewed in the context of interpersonal communications. When we are speaking with someone, we automatically would assume we are listening to them, but that is not a given. When we are exchanging pleasantries, greetings, feelings, thoughts and all manner of other things in our day-to-day conversations, we are often just hearing the person speak. This casual type of communication does not require us to fully engage. We can be a part of the conversation without applying a great deal of thought or understanding. We can hear someone vent or reminisce and are not asked to recall details or specifics at some later date. We just need to get the gist of what they are saying and respond in the appropriate manner. And this type of communication is the predominant player in our day. But, on occasion, we are required to fully engage our thought processes, linguistic skills, perception, and knowledge base. We hear someone talk about their weekend, but we would be listening if they were giving us directions to get somewhere. We hear the boss say “good morning” in passing, but we are listening when we are sitting in his office being reprimanded for some recent failure or shortcoming.

And this difference is even more pronounced when the communication is between relationship partners. Every relationship has some moments of conflict or disagreement. But it is a lack of actively listening that can turn a misunderstanding or varying perceptions into an argument. During these important conversations with our partners about intrinsically sensitive subjects, being a good listener is critical and it is often the most difficult thing to do. Although we continue to hear what our partners are saying and are likely fully engaged in the conversation, our engagement is not centered on listening. A large part of our focus is given to formulating our response. As soon as they say something we do not agree with or we see differently, our mind begins to work on our response to that idea and we begin to stop listening to everything that follows. Interrupting your partner to make sure you get this epiphany across to them would be indicative of not actively listening. It is just how our minds work. In these conversations, we view making our point as just as important as listening to theirs. And making your point is important. But it should not come at the cost of listening to your partner. In these most tumultuous communications, we must take great effort to remain engaged in listening. If you are trying to process what you are hearing, formulating a response, and anxiously waiting for them to stop speaking so you can make your point, then you are probably not listening well.

How do we combat this lack of listening at a time that we need it most? First, we must get past the notion that any silence between what they are saying and our response is a bad thing. If you were to ask me a thought-provoking question, I may pause as I consider your inquiry and work to formulate my feelings or concepts in an articulate way. This silence does not necessarily mean I do not understand what you are asking. It is just me taking a moment to fully contemplate what is being asked. And because I have given some time to consider it, my response may well carry more weight than if I just spew out an answer. Secondly, barring some unrealistic time constraints, you will have plenty of time to give your views on the subject, so stop trying to work out what you are going to say when they are speaking to you. Just listen to what they are saying. Try to see things from their perspective rather than preparing to defend your own. Keep in mind that the person speaking to you is probably the most important person in your life and what they are expressing is important to them, thus it should be important to you. Make it important to you too by giving their thoughts careful consideration. Third, don’t interrupt! If you don’t understand something being said, be patient and ask for clarification when they have finished their thought. Be on guard here that you are not asking for clarification by simply rewording what they said in some negative way.

It is a Herculean task to put being right or winning the argument way down your priority list. But when we are discussing feelings, fears, needs, or desires, there is no “right” or “winning”. The winning comes from being able to openly and honestly communicate with the person you love. The winning comes from listening well and being given exclusive insight in to who the person you love is and how they feel. Take things in small chucks. Do not try to cover every facet of a conflict in one long run-on sentence. Remember, you are looking for them to be good listeners too. If we are given too much information, it is more difficult to process what is being conveyed.

Lastly, speak from love not anger/fear/jealousy. Give what you are saying the same careful consideration you are hoping to apply to their thoughts. Hateful and angry words can damage and are not easily ignored or forgotten. You are trying to let your partner know how you feel and this can always be done in a loving way. It doesn’t mean they will love what you have to say, but they should never question whether you love them.

Speak kindly, listening carefully, see openly, and love deeply!

© 2012  Commonsensibly Speaking ~ Brad Osborne

5 Responses to “The Art of Listening”
  1. celine outlet says:

    I just added this website to my rss reader, great stuff. Cant get enough!

  2. Michelle M Ruiz says:

    Good blog post, nice efforts. It couldn’t appear to have been penned any better. Reading this article piece of writing reminds me about my old boss! He usually kept babbling about this. I will email this post to him. Pretty confident he will probably have a high-quality read. Appreciate your posting!

  3. Great article as always! Thank you for the reminder. Sadly, I sometimes feel that any silence in an attempt to understand without constantly speaking is viewed as a negative thing in several of my workplaces where so many want to speak without even taking a breath or stopping to consider if current plans/words match goals, etc. To top it all off, when I get quiet for a moment because I’m thinking about a request or statement, some will take that as a hint to speak louder, faster or ask more questions. It’s as if the silence really is deafening to some and they must get it out of the way.

    • Brad Osborne says:

      Natasha, I know what you mean! And, as always, thanks for reading and your kind comments. Loved your shout out to Pam Reaves on your blog and look forward to reading her book. Stay well and be you!

      • Thanks Brad, I am happy to hear you enjoyed reading about Pam. Too often I write about idiots or wong doing in an attempt to shine light on it. This month and going forward, I want to show that there are wonderful people around us. We just need to see them. Keep writing, I always look forward to your insight.

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