Listening is Art and Skill

The way we listen in conversations says a lot about who we are.

I’ve compiled an informal list of the ways we listen that may help you identify some of your own.

Truth be told I catch myself listening in each of these ways at different times.

Some listen to answer.

Ever noticed In the midst on an active conversation, while you are speaking, your listeners’ eyes start glazing over? Or they repeat , “Yes, I know.” But you know that they aren’t with you. They aren’t listening to hear you, they are listening to answer and are impatient for you to stop speaking so they can get their response out. We have all been guilty of listening to answer. It’s the sign of an over active mind which doesn’t want to hear.

A little more disturbing is the person who listens to judge.

Unwilling to change their views many people engage in conversation only to find out who agrees with their prejudice. If you share the position of the listener they will nod and agree. But if you hold an opposing view communication will stop and the person will either leave the conversion or simply talk right over you. Listening to judge is the way of the bigot. “My mind’s made up don’t confuse me with facts!”

Listening to argue is similar to the judge but this is the listening of a contrarian.

We all know at least one person who enjoys arguing simply for argument’s sake. No matter what is said they will assume a contrary position. The opposite of the bigot, this listener holds no fixed view but shape-shifts to oppose whatever is being said, and thinks it’s very smart. It isn’t. It’s tedious.

Listening to get hurt

And as in every good play, in listening there’s the victim. Victims listen to get hurt. No matter what is said, they’ll twist the words into something about them and experience it as hurtful. It’s the person who, when you compliment them and say they look good, turns on you and says, “Oh, so I didn’t look good last time?”

You just can’t win with those who listen to get hurt.

There are more creative ways of listening though, namely listening to understand, and listening to grow and change.

The experience of an interactive conversation or sharing with a friend who is truly trying to understand you, must rank among life’s most freeing moments.

It’s the empathic listening of someone who attends to the moment and hears you in your words and also in what isn’t said. A listener who as St Francis of Assisi wrote, “seeks first to understand before wanting to be understood”.

Finally there is listening to grow and change.

It’s the listening of a lifelong learner.

One who listens to grow and change is a person who is filled with wonder about life and its dynamics.

True listening is all absorbing, and as psychiatrist M Scott Peck says, “You cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.






One response to “Listening is Art and Skill”

  1. Sandra Ritchie avatar
    Sandra Ritchie

    Nice to hear from you again Peter. This article is so on point. Thank you.

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