How to Reclaim the Art of Listening

Listen up! We seem to have lost the skill of listening.

Look around you – everyone is talking and consuming and there’s a flood of information everywhere (too much information, some say) but who’s listening?

  • The birds.
  • Little kids who can’t talk yet.
  • Old people, maybe, if they have batteries in their hearing aids.

But the rest of us are (mostly) talking like first graders high on cake at a birthday party. “Didyouseethereallycoolthingoverthere? Omgthepunchissooooogood.Youhavetotrysome!”

Yeah, that has to stop.

But what’s the answer in a high-volume, over-amped society? Talk louder? Talk more than the others?

Nope. The best thing is to actually get good at listening. It’s not hard, and it can change your relationships with so many people in your life – your spouse, your kids, your co-workers, even your pet. (Well, maybe not your cat but we’re not going to get into that.)

Krista Tippett of “On Being” says, “Listening is an everyday art … listening is not something that we do all the time. It’s work. It’s a commitment.”

But that’s okay. We’re not afraid of work or commitment, right? So here’s your super-quick, no-skills-required, crash course on (easy) listening:

  1. Stop talking
  2. Wait.
  3. Look at the other person in the conversation.
  4. Don’t speak, don’t speak, don’t speak. (No matter how much your brain is itching to vomit all over and no matter how twitchy your lips are. Pinch yourself on the leg if you have to, but DO NOT SPEAK.)
  5. Hear their words. Focus on the meaning of those words. Read the body language of the speaker. Are they happy? Sad? Angry at you? What are their hands doing? Their legs? Their eyebrows?
  6. Still don’t speak. Not even when they stop talking. Pause. Breathe.
  7. If they start to speak again to further explain their thoughts, let them. Don’t drift off in your own mind. Pay attention. This is the hard part, but you’re tough, you can do this.
  8. Okay … now … speak. Pay attention to the physical and verbal responses to what you are saying.
  9. Pause.
  10. Repeat this sequence.

That’s it. Doesn’t seem so bad, does it? And if you find yourself stuck, remember how fantastic it feels when someone really hears you, really gets what you’re saying. Great, right?

Well, you have the power to work that magic on others, to understand, to make people feel special. Because there’s one more big secret I’m going to let you in on: “Understanding doesn’t mean agreeing.” (Pádraig Ó Tuama said that.)

You can understand someone without agreeing. So go listen, understand, and listen some more. If you’re lucky, people will do the same for you. Good luck!

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