The Skill of Listening
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The Skill of Listening

Learn the skill of listening

We as human beings all have a need to be seen, heard, understood and validated.    There’s nothing like that feeling when we can say, ‘she gets me’.  It’s like a balm that penetrates the soul and makes us feel connected and less alone.

Listening is a very powerful tool but unfortunately not well utilized.  It certainly needs to be part of a school curriculum and we’d all be better off.  I dare say if we learned to listen better, there would be less need for professional listeners, i.e. therapists, for those who need that safe place to unload and vent, to be given that time and space where what they say matters greatly; where it’s all about them.  I say this as I myself provide this service and sometimes feel that I’m {just} a glorified listener.

I find many people to be quite self-centered in their conversation style, or perhaps I should say in their monologue style.  They love to talk, rarely ask the other questions or show an interest, and when the other finally gets a word in, they quickly sweep it right back to themselves.  Those people just need a mirror in which to talk to themselves.  I always wonder – don’t they ever get bored of hearing themselves; where’s the interest in hearing about others?

In the book, The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein, there is a great paragraph on listening narrated by a dog: “I never deflect the course of a conversation with a comment of my own.  People, if you pay attention to them, change the direction of one another’s conversations constantly….Pretend you are a dog like me and listen to other people rather than steal their stories.”

So here’s a brief list of ways to improve your listening skills:

  • Know the difference between listening and hearing.  Hearing is an auditory/physiological process.  Listening involves the whole person – mind, heart and soul.  Attentiveness and interest need to come through.
  • Reflect back on what the other says; it makes him feel heard and understood, and that what he’s saying matters to you.  Comment on it.
  • Don’t bring it back to yourself.  Let the other feel it’s about them for the moment.  There’s nothing more dismissive than having your heartfelt comments be swept away by the listener bringing it back to himself and his story.
  • Be present and focused.  It’s all too obvious when the listener is simply waiting for that period in order to jump in and start talking, or is thinking about what he’s going to say next.
  • Ask questions to elaborate.  It shows you care, are interested and want to further understand what he’s saying.
  • Acknowledge the emotions.  This can sound like the touchy-feely stuff better left for the therapist’s office.  But this is the crux of basic good communication.  And to repeat again:  when we feel understood, we’re more likely to feel better and calmer.  Our visceral need is to feel held with words and sometimes even silence, rather than jumping in to provide the quick fix of solutions.  When given the space and understanding we can usually come to our own answers.  And if not, there’s always time for the brainstorming for possible solutions.

Lots of healing can take place if we just listened better.  It’s a learnable skill.  Let’s practice and be more mindful of ourselves in conversation.

Here are some great quotes on listening:

  1. “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” – Stephen R. Covey
  2. “Listening is about being present, not just about being quiet.” – Krista Tippett
  3. “Listening is an attitude of the heart, a genuine desire to be with another which both attracts and heals.” – L. J. Isham
  4. “Listening is often the only thing needed to help someone.” – Anonymous
  5. “The art of conversation lies in listening.” – Malcolm Forbes

Would love to hear your comments on this.  How are you at listening?  How do you find others listen when you’re talking, in general or about something difficult? 

4 thoughts on “The Skill of Listening

  1. Myrna Beck Gore says:

    Excellent advice. Thank you, Harriet.

  2. Harriet says:

    Hi Myrna, So nice to see you here. I’m glad you like the pointers for better listening.

  3. Great reminder. Very helpful!

  4. Harriet says:

    Hi Melanie,
    Thanks for stopping by. Glad you like.

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