The Art of Listening

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Communication is essential in our lives.

With no communication we would be just shadows walking around this planet with no purpose. Imagine yourself in this world, what would you do if you had no way to express your feeling, to ask for something, to make yourself understood? What would be the reason to live among other people if you had no way to interact with them?

Even if you had the ability to think and imagine different things, what would be the reason to think about something different, to imagine a different tomorrow if you had no way to share your ideas with others? Probably there would be no reason at all. Life would be absolutely senseless.

That’s why communication is so essential for our existence. We constantly feel the desire to express ourselves, to share our emotions, to let others feel they are not alone. At the same time we love when we feel understood, when our inner emotions and feelings are experienced also by others. And all of this is possible only by means of communication. We can communicate in different ways: with our actions (like a caress or a hug), with our presence, with our facial expressions (a smile, a grimace),  with our help, with a letter, with our silence, with our eyes, but most of the time our main way to communicate is with the voice.

When we meet someone we usually start a conversation with him, when we need something we can use our voice to ask for it, when we get hurt we can scream to make ourselves understood, when we don’t agree with someone we can express our disappointment by means of words rather than with any violent action. Speaking is also an entertaining way to pass our time: talking about our past, or discussing about different topics is surely a great way to enjoy our time.

Speaking isn’t all you need to Communicate

The problem is that often communication by means of speech is not as clear as we can imagine. Fist because it’s a lot easier to lie with the language than in any other way , and second because even if we speak clearly we can’t be sure that our message is received and understood.

A conversation takes place only when there are both a speaker and a listener. This might sound obvious but it’s not. Most of the times we think we are having a conversation we actually aren’t. Our society is full of people who love speaking all day long, but very little are really capable of understanding. Speaking seems like a must-have ability to the point that people who speaks very little are labelled as shy and cold, while people that waste their words just for the mere pleasure of talking can be found all over the world. Listening is a very uncommon and undervalued skill. When we talk with someone we take for granted that the other person is listening to us, but many times the so-called listener is just thinking about his own problems. We also do this every day. Try to remember how many times you forgot to do something your were asked for, how many times you just kept nodding to someone without caring about what he was actually telling you and how often you check your smart-phone during a conversation. Countless times I suppose. Don’t blame yourself, everyone  acts in this ways, and it’s also very common to just wait for your turn to speak rather than paying attention to what is being said.

We are egocentric creatures. Nothing is as important as our businesses,  our problems and our thoughts. We see communication mainly as way through which express ourselves, to share our ideas and emotions rather than a way to receive what others are willing to share with us. Sometimes we remember that also the other people are just like us and so we stop thinking about ourselves and open our mind to others, but usually it’s just for a moment.  A great moment. Only when we manage to leave aside our personal business we are really capable of listening, if our mind is fully absorbed by the self there is no way we can understand the message someone is trying to deliver to us.

Re-learning the Art of Listening

Only in these moments we really master the lost art of Listening. Only in these situations we are really capable of understanding the message that others are trying to give us.

It happens very rarely though. Very rarely we manage to give up our own priorities and to shift our consciousness toward the other person. It’s something that in a certain way is opposite to our typical way of living and therefore is something we are not accustomed to. Anyway it’s a skill we should be willing to improve. Being a good listener might help us in many situations: a good listener has a better awareness of reality, greater abilities to understand what others really want or desire and moreover has a better understanding of his own needs. Let’s see some practical way to become better at listening:

  • Focus completely on the present: if you want to be good at listening, the fist thing you should understand is that you can’t listen properly if you don’t fully focus on this only activity. When you listen you just listen, there should be nothing else for you apart from the other person, his words, his gestures and his emotions;
  • Resist any urge: while listening you will probably feel the desire to move away your mind, to think about your next activity, to judge the other person for what he is telling you, to check your smart-phone.. Well you shouldn’t. As you move your attention to something else you fail as a listener. Try to resist to the pressing desire to shift your attention toward something else, be aware of these urges but then come back to the process of listening;
  • Empathise with the other person: as you listen your primary aim should be to understand what the speaker is trying to tell you. In order to achieve a good level of empathy you should try to analyse words and situations by his point of view rather than by yours. Your point of view is affected by judgement and therefore it won’t probably let you understand the true message you are receiving;
  • Look for a deeper understanding: sometimes the real message is not told by means of words, it is hidden. The good listener is the one who identifies the inner desires of people by understanding the needs behind every word. When someone tells you he is alone, that he has nothing to do, maybe his real message is that he would like to pass more time with you or that he want to have a higher consideration from you. The enchanted listener sees the lack behind the anger, the desire behind the disappointment, the emptiness behind the excessive enthusiasm;
  • Mind the body language: communication is not only words but also gestures and actions. If you can’t understand the speaker by means of words try to focus on his body language, see if his actions are consistent with his words, define the state of mind of the other person, try to put him at ease. When we are overwhelmed by anger, frustration or anxiety communication is much more complicated;
  • Ask for clarifications: no one will think that you are stupid if you ask them to repeat something or to express their concepts in a different way. If you ask for clarifications you only show the other person that you are willing to understand, that you are really trying to empathise with him. Also the repetition of some concepts might help you to better understand the meaning of the worlds you are listening to, and so to identify the true needs of the other person.

And then, when you feel that you have mastered to art of Listening, move your attention to the self. You will realize that most of the time we don’t give enough attention to our needs and desires, that the problems that affect the communication between people are the same that make us disappointed and dissatisfied. As you start listening to your hidden needs and you try to fulfil them you will feel a lot better. So start today, become a better listener.

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PS: for the month of August there will a new post every Monday!

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