What does it mean to listen? Or to be heard? We think if we have ears that work, meaning we hear sound, that we can listen. We must be listening because we hear another’s voice and answer. If we work at a cafe, we listen, get the order and hand the customer what they wanted. Most of us do this all day long in our interactions, and figure that is communication. We figure listening is natural, easy, what humans do.
Now it seems as we learn and age, listening and effective communication can expand. There are discernments, subtleties, and yes, patience. Listening isn’t waiting to speak. It really is hearing what that person says, and maybe even asking for clarification, to check for meaning. The same word can hold different meaning or intensity for one person than another. Checking is a good thing to do as you listen. If we ask a question of someone that she/he just answered, we weren’t listening. As an interviewer, a good interviewer, especially in film or media, you have to listen. A guest loses interests if you are not listening. If you just follow your list of questions one after the other and don’t connect the conversation and topics that your guest has covered, you’re not listening.
Listening is an art form, and one that may gain appreciation and notice as we age. I’m still deciding. I don’t think I’ve changed particularly, but it seems others comment on how well I listen and retain or comment on what they said, then or later.
I think I’ve always enjoyed listening. (Although I don’t enjoy monologuists anymore. I realize back and forth listening and conversing is a beautiful thing.) I think when we are curious we tend to listen. When someone is speaking to me, I pay attention. I’m not doing anything else. I’m listening. I notice when later I bring something up that connects to that conversation, often the person says I have a good memory as opposed to I am a good listener. I think if you are listening to someone, you do remember. What I have noticed, is often the speaker isn’t listening to what they are saying, they just talk a lot. Sometimes a person forgets he/she has told me the same story 3 times at the same party. I can get exasperated. I wonder, should I be listening to people who clearly aren’t listening to themselves?
Listening is a form of attention. We know when someone is really listening to us, and when we don’t have their full attention. We expect full attention from a paid professional like a therapist or a lawyer I suppose, and hopefully we get it. I guess I expect that same attention from my friends and colleagues.
Listening can be a way of slowing down, a form of meditation, something that brings you into the present moment. Now if the speaker is distracted or talking gobbley gook it might not necessarily be meditative, unless it helps you see how distracted they are. Maybe your attention to listening helps quiet them down, because you may ask a question or want clarification that shows you are listening. I don’t think many of us are used to being on the receiving end of real listening. Sometimes we get caught off guard when someone remarks on something we said, or asks us a thoughtful question based on what we said. It can be startling in its rarity. Yet that kind of attention can give us energy and maybe bring us into the present moment.
I have always had interest in listening. I enjoy it because it can bring connection. I’m not interested in talking about people though. Certainly not gossip. “He said she said”. That is draining, negative and doesn’t build anything good. I like to know what makes a person tick. And I love to discuss ideas, to innovate, to solve. My interest in listening and conversing is to learn, to share, to expand, and to get closer to people. It seems many people don’t stand still or have enough interest in connecting through conversation and listening. Or maybe don’t know how, or fear it?
Listening with openness is important. It is said you can find what you seek, so if you think someone is catty, you can interpret whatever they say or do in that way. Just look at the tabloids. And no doubt the opposite must be true, yet in each case, it means we hear with a point of view we want to bolster.
Listening with curiosity and the desire to understand, that can be a challenge sometimes, depending on whether the conversation is between a happy couple or the leaders of nations in conflict. Listening in order to understand, and being open to really try, leaving our defensive or reactive selves at the door, that alone could change our immediate orbits for sure.