30 November 2010

Listen Up!

I read two separate short articles on listening this morning, in two different books, so it seems that life’s sending me a not-so-subtle message.  One of the articles was “Creative Listening,” by Wilferd A. Peterson, in which he points out many of the benefits of listening, and strategies for doing so.  To him, the value in listening is what we can learn, and how we can change our lives in positive ways when we do actually listen.  He encourages us to listen to the beautiful and to the good, and to listen critically and creatively and with patience.  If we do listen, he says, we can get something out of what we hear.  He implies that if we don’t listen, we really won’t get anything at all out of what we experience.

The other passage was by Richard Carlson in Never Mind the Small Stuff.  His focus was on listening to the other person closely in order to make both of you feel better about yourselves.  If we spend our time formulating our answers and just waiting for the other person to finish so that we can speak, we won’t get much out of the interaction and we’ll probably make the other person feel a bit diminished.  When we do this, we’re not showing respect to either of us.

Whenever I come across material from two different sources that’s so strongly related, I take it as a sign that there’s something there for me to learn.  As far as listening is concerned, I’ve studied quite a bit about it, yet I still don’t practice what I’ve learned very well.  I do some things that I don’t like while listening, like formulating my response and avoiding eye contact; while I’m trying to change these behaviors, it’s coming very slowly.

Listening isn't a skill that we tend to value these days.  We live in an age when we're supposed to have answers for everything, and I hear plenty of people give completely wrong answers because they read something on the Internet or because someone else told them so.  I hear plenty of people cut other people off when they're talking, not letting them finish sentences or statements, because something the other person has said has triggered a memory or a thought.

We have a simple choice:  we can let other people finish what they're saying and then reply, or we can stop them and share our thoughts.  The first choice shows respect and allows us to treat others with dignity; the second shows a complete lack of respect, and has us treat others with no dignity at all.  To me, it's quite clear what I ought to be doing.

When I listen carefully, I do affect the people in my life.  When I listen closely to them, I can make their day brighter simply by treating them with the respect necessary to listen to what they say.  And what they say is valuable, if not to me, then to them–I just have to recognize that value and respect it and truly hear what they say.  Does something have to be important to me for me to listen to it?  Things that are important to others count, too!  Listening is one of the most valuable contributions that we can make to our friends and co-workers and family members–true listening, not just hearing the words, but focusing on the meanings behind the words.  So my goal for today is to listen better, and to try to keep up that habit in coming days.

I spent most of my life waiting for my turn to speak.  If you’re at all
like me, you’ll be pleasantly amazed at the softer reactions and looks
of surprise as you let others completely finish their thought before you
begin yours.  Often, you will be allowing someone to feel listened to
for the first time.  You will sense a feeling of relief coming from the
person to whom you are speaking—and a much calmer, less rushed feeling
between the two of you.  No need to worry that you won’t get your turn
to speak—you will.  In fact, it will be more rewarding to speak because
the person you are speaking to will pick up on your respect
and patience and will begin to do the same.

Richard Carlson

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