It has been said that we were given two ears and only one mouth for a purpose. The first step to teachability is learning to listen. I would suggest that listening is an art, requiring practice, skill, spirit, and inspiration. We need to work at listening; it does not come naturally or without restrictions. Listening is much more than just ‘hearing’, requiring active participation to process what is being said or heard into something that we can accept and understand.
There are many tips and suggestions to help people master the “Art of Listening” for themselves. These include making eye contact, practicing ‘active listening’, observing the non-verbal, suspending judgement, and many more. They all help but listening is also much more than a checklist of things you should or should-not be doing. Listening comes from a desire to understand others and what they are thinking. Good listening helps us to know people better, to learn what they have learned, and to show them that we value them as individuals.
You do not have to embrace everything others say, or even agree with them, but you can learn from them with the right attitude. This is one of the main challenges we have as a world today. We have forgotten how to listen. We are so preoccupied in what we think is right, what we believe, that we fail to listen and understand others. As a result, we pick up small pieces of what others are saying that we can grasp onto that sound like what we believe.
Our media today provides many good examples. At one point, journalist tried to present all sides of a story to help us have perspective and make up our own minds on the issue. What we hear today are popular agendas that are trying to influence us to a certain way of thinking. Persuasion is not necessarily a bad thing, but it becomes something else when it fails to provide more than one viewpoint or opinion from which to choose.
A close companion to the Art of Listening is the ability to ask great questions. Questions help us to get below the surface of listening and down to the meaning behind the words. They should not interfere with listening. The intent is to have a better understanding. A good question can also help start a conversation to provide for an opportunity to listen.
One final item of consideration. You do not need to listen to everyone deeply all the time? It’s perfectly okay to pick and choose who you decide to listen to. It is impossible to always be actively listening to everyone. Listening requires a level of self-respect, both toward yourself and other people. You don’t need to be a doormat, a martyr, or a therapist to everyone.
The Art of Listening is powerful. Use this power wisely. Listening, really listening, makes you feel more connected to others and life.