I love this quote

Is anyone anywhere taught how to listen?  How utterly amazing is the general assumption that the ability to listen well is a natural gift for which no training is required.  How extraordinary is the fact that no effort is made anywhere in the whole educational process to help individuals learn how to listen well.   Mortimer Adler

I never really thought about listening in this manner.  Is it a “natural gift”?  Growing up, we all probably had to do a speech class.  But none of us ever had a “listening” class.  We probably got graded on a group presentation, but not listening to the presentation.  We are taught the fundamentals of speaking (eye contact, tell them what you are going to tell them, try not to read the words, etc.).  But we are not taught the fundamentals of listening.  Doesn’t that seem like a gap in our education?

Here is another spin on listening according to Dan Pink – “for many of us, the opposite of talking isn’t listening.  It’s waiting.  When others speak, we typically divide our attention between what they’re saying now and what we’re going to say next – and end up doing a mediocre job at both.   . . . Listening without some degree of intimacy isn’t really listening.”

Wow.  The opposite of talking is WAITING! How often do we find ourselves waiting to say something new while someone else is talking?  As Pink says, we do not do a great job of really listening – really hearing what the other person says and means.  We are getting ready to add our great comments.  Think about when you are first introduced to someone.  For me, I forget the other person’s name pretty quickly – because I am waiting for them to finish speaking so I can tell them my name!

It is easy to recognize this waiting idea when we are on the other side – “Weren’t you listening to me?  Didn’t you hear what I just said?” The unspoken answer is usually, “no I did not hear you because I was planning my response”.  Is it any wonder that communication among human beings is so hard?  It is as if we train one “muscle”, speaking, but not the other muscle, listening.  We unconsciously turn to the stronger muscle, speaking.

So what can we do about this imbalance?  Awareness is the first step.  If we allow ourselves to be aware that this phenomenon is occurring, we can at least recognize it.  Maybe the next step is to work on our “listening muscle”. Pick a time and place to be focused 100% on listening without even thinking about speaking.  Perhaps it at lunch or dinner.  You truly focus on concentrating on what the other person is saying and doing.  Maybe you pick an hour a day that is designated “listening time.”  You can even tell someone else what you are trying to accomplish.  Work on better listening in baby steps.  Maybe you listen to a podcast and focus on hearing what is said. Or maybe it is truly listening when someone introduces themselves.

Perhaps you need to change your frame of reference as described by Cathy Salit.  Her thought is: the ultimate idea is “to listen without listening FOR anything”. Think about all of the times we are listening for someone to say something that triggers a response from us.  We wait to hear a magic word or phrase that we can jump on and add our two cents worth.  How hard is it to listen and just hear?


One thought on “Listening

  1. Always noticed this in “discussions “, didn’t think about normal conversation. Thanks for sharing.

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