The Lost Art of Listening

Listening is something we usually do while doing something else.  

TV is a good example. It’s often left on as background noise, like packing peanuts filled in around higher priorities for attention. 

Want to give someone a gift they will love? Try listening to them. 

It’s not as easy as it sounds. To really listen, we must let go of our own thoughts and planned responses. We also need to maintain eye contact. During pauses, we have to resist the urge to bring the conversation back to ourselves. Finally, it’s important to ask clarifying questions to acknowledge we are interested in what the other person is saying. 

It’s hard work, which explains why active listening is rare. How many people do you know that really listen? Conversely, and being completely honest, how often do we really listen to others? 

For me, it’s rare in either direction!

Real listening requires vulnerability and a willingness to change, neither of which is comfortable. 

The most critical time to listen is when we disagree. When confronted with objectionable opinions, we usually interrupt or stop listening to formulate an argumentative response. 

We miss out on a lot that way!

Years ago, I had a work colleague who saw the world differently than me in every way imaginable. If I said the sky was blue, he would say it was green. I found this extremely irritating, and had we not been forced to work on a project together, I doubt we would’ve become friends.

The surprising thing was that even though I disagreed with him on nearly everything, his views were well thought out. After a while, I decided to listen to him rather than argue. An amazing thing happened! My opinions often changed based on what I learned. He mentioned the same thing happened to him. We’ve maintained a friendship based on mutual respect for twenty-five years.  

Lately, I’ve been listening to podcasts that expound political views that differ from my own. I find it challenging and upsetting. I guess my desire to be right exceeds my desire to learn. 

True listening emphasizes learning over knowing. 

The “Five Whys” is a critical problem-solving technique developed by the Toyota Motor Company. It involves asking why five times whenever confronted with a complex problem or alternative viewpoint. When I apply the method, I always learn something new. 

Given that listening is a valuable gift and a font of greater understanding, it’s curious that it’s so rare. Then again, perhaps not! 

-It requires our complete attention.

-We must be open and purposely vulnerable.

-We must be willing to change.

-We must suspend what we know to make room for what we might learn.

-Finally, we must resist the urge to bring the conversation back to ourselves.

No wonder it’s so rare!


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