Soft Skills For Life: The Art of Listening

One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say – Bryant H. McGill

Listening is a function of both the mind and heart

It has been said that listening is the skill or ability to accurately receive messages in the communication process. Dr. Stephen R. Covey observed that while we are taught how to read and write, we don’t have listening improvement classes, which is a vital yet difficult relational skill. Learning to listen can raise your relational equity because it shows you are interested in the other person and value their thoughts and feelings. 

By listening, you get an inside look into other people. Listening is like performing an X-ray or MRI. You get to know others in a deeper, more detailed way. You get to know their heartbeat and get in touch with the current condition of their heart. Next time you listen to someone speak, engage your heart and mind. The relationship will flourish and become even more valuable. 

Listening is the water that makes conversation flourish

Those who talk the most without giving time to listen to others are often the most lonely. Bernard Baruch observed, “Most of the successful people I’ve known are the ones who do more listening than talking.”  

Have you ever put pressure on yourself to find something to say, but as the pressure rises, the more you draw a blank mentally? But when you are among people and decide to listen and let the conversation flow from there, a pressure relief valve is opened in your mind, and suddenly, a string of words flows. You get engaged and soon others are asking about you and the conversation keeps growing and something wonderful is created. Mitigate the pressure to speak by seeking to listen first. 

Listening is essential to learning

The better you are at listening, the less you will view feedback as an attack but as more of an assessment to become a better person. You adopt the posture of a learner. Ernest Hemingway put it best when he said, “I like to listen, I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen.” As an avid reader, I must be careful not to impose what I read on others to sound impressive or try to “treat” their issues. I must make listening an intentional habit to ensure I am not so book-informed that I become exhausting by always dumping on people what I know. 

Larry King said,” I remind myself every morning: Nothing I say will teach me anything. So if I’m going to learn, I must do it by listening.”  Personally, listening helps to close emotional distance. I am learning humility as well. I get to know how much I do not know but need to know. Doug Larson is quoted as saying, “Wisdom is the reward you get for a lifetime of listening when you’d have preferred to talk.”

Listening is an act of generosity 

When you listen, you lend valuable mental bandwidth to another person. It calls for your full mental capacities. Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen says, “The most powerful way to connect to another person is to listen. Just listen. Perhaps the most important thing we ever give each other is our attention.” And attention is as valuable as ever in our digital age. 

I have made the grave error once or twice of attempting to listen to my wife while scrolling through my phone or watching TV. Those conversations have not gone well and I have regretted not paying attention. Later, I would bring up something that my wife had mentioned and I expose myself as an offender of not giving attention to her. I failed to heed M. Scott Peck’s advice that, “You cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.” When devices are prioritized above deepening connections with those around us, our relationships get fractured. On the contrary, when I have looked at my wife and engaged in truly listening to her, those conversations grow our relationship. This experience taught me the magnetic power that listening possesses. 

Prolific author Brenda Ueland challenged,  “Think how the friends that really listen to us are the ones we move toward and want to sit in their radius as though it did us good, like ultraviolet rays.” She went on to provide the reason, “When we are listened to, it creates us, makes us unfold, and expand. Ideas actually begin to grow within us and come to life.” By listening to someone or by being listened to, heavy mental burdens can be lifted and relief experienced. 

Communication builds or breaks on the premise of listening. Here are three out of many obstacles to better listening. They serve as grounds that breed contempt and resentment in a relationship:

  • Viewing a conversation as a competition instead of a discussion
  • Distractions (mainly from devices).
  • Constantly interrupting the person talking.

The following prompts have significantly improved my ability to listen. I hope they will help you as well: 

  • Start the conversation with a question of interest in the other person, not a statement of self-assertiveness. Ed Cunningham noted, “ Friends are those rare people who ask how we are, and then wait to hear the answer.” 
  • Observe more, overlook less.
  • Stop waiting your turn to talk; listen fully. Simon Sinek clarifies this when he said, “There is a difference between listening and waiting for your turn to speak.” 

By applying the aforementioned listening prompts, you will greatly improve your aptitude for listening and your relationships will soar. 

Final Thought: When we give our most valuable relationships our best instead of our leftovers, we create the right environment to craft richer and deeper connections.

Exercise: Which prompt can you apply to become a better listener? 

Keep on Keeping on!

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