Those of us born with the ability to hear take listening for granted. But the art of listening has nothing to do with our sensory experience of hearing. Listening is a complex cognitive process which involves understanding, reception and interpretation, all of which requires motivation and dedication.
Hearing requires minimal effort. You can hear when your partner is talking to you, or when someone is speaking in a meeting. You can hear when a commotion is going on outside or a group of protestors standing in a town square.
When you merely hear things, it’s easier to dismiss them. It’s easy to hear a group of demonstrators chanting, know what they’re protesting about and either agree or reject them based on your personal beliefs, despite never taking the time to listen to what they’re saying.
What is someone trying to say?
You can complain to your friends about how much your partner “nags” you to help around the house, but have you ever listened to what they’re saying? Listening requires delving beyond the surface level of what’s being said and analysing what message the speaker is trying to convey. Is your partner nagging you because they enjoy winding you up and want you to feel lazy? Or is your partner frustrated and just asking for help? Do they feel tired and alone, so they’re desperately begging you to extend your hand and take some burden from them?
Listening is a crucial element of any healthy relationships, regardless if it’s platonic, romantic or professional. You can’t authentically connect with someone you mentally interrupt when speaking. Mental interruption involves allowing your thoughts or eyes to wander when speaking, planning what you’re about to say next or preparing yourself for the moment you can talk and break the dialogue.
Opinions are easy to formulate. They don’t require any actual skill, intelligence or maturity. While intelligent and well-formed opinions have value in this world, such ideas depend upon the thinker to be a great listener.
What does it take to be a good listener?
Being a good listener isn’t about what you do more of, but what you do less.
Great listeners are effective at eliminating unhelpful habits which impede their listening, such as allowing their mind to wander, focussing on themselves and what they have to say and concentrating on what is being said rather than analysing the message underlying it.
Great listeners don’t enter the conversation to add anything to it. They are too emotionally secure within themselves to try and “win” the conversation and justify themselves, and they don’t go in with the intent of solving a problem.
The primary goal of a great listener is to understand the person who’s speaking as much as is humanely possible. Great listeners want to make a genuine connection with another person that transcends their ego and provides the speaker with the support and companionship they need.
Great speakers are born of great listeners. If you want to become a well-rounded, open-minded, experienced and well-versed person, you must open your mind and try to understand all of those around you, even those with whom you disagree.