08 June 2016


Most people do not listen with the
intent to understand, they listen
with the intent to reply.
Stephen R. Covey

We are so consumed with the daily routine tasks, like texting, instagraming, constantly being in a hurry and so forth, that we rarely engage in real conversations anymore. Very often, in very important conversations. I mean, we certainly talk a lot, and talk all the time, but remember how you are always thinking about something else, while someone is speaking with you, even if it is what you are going to say next you are thinking about. Attentive and genuine listening has become a rare component of modern interaction.

There is a reason why we have two quite accurately different verbs in English - "to listen" and "to hear". Right now, for instance, while I am writing this article, I can distinctly hear Spongebob making a meaningful point to his useless friend Patrick from the next room. I can also hear my fingers rhythmically tapping away over the keyboard, and a furious horn blaring outside - all this without putting to much effort into it. You all know the definition of the verb "to hear".

As well as of the verb "to listen". Only, listening requires way more intense brain activity and thorough concentration. We try hard to multi-task, we find it equally hard to slow down and take in what other person is saying. Listening starts (and ends, if you wish) with paying attention.

I find talking important, talking is essential constituent in maintaining healthy relationships. People can avoid a lot of misunderstanding or resentment if they stop for a second and talk, with the intent to understand, as you go. Listening helps achieve understanding in relationships and resolve a lot of conflicts. Keep in mind that talking is a two-way activity, you give me, I give you in return. Giving in this particular instance means listening.

Most people, however, approach a conversation through "I'd rather talk myself". Talking about yourself, your problems and your experience is far more interesting, indeed. When you talk, you are in control of the path the conversation is going to take. And when you talk, you are the center of attention. It feels empowering. Yet, listening can be very interesting as well, if not more interesting. 

The reason people don't listen, is either our mind is unable to focus, or we are simply bored and uninterested in the matter, or the person that is speaking. But you are there, aren't you, and they are talking to you, aren't they? For a lot of people it is very uneasy to open up, respect this, when someone does, give them your full attention. Focus on what you are being told and engage in the conversation. Besides, being there for others can be very satisfying and rewarding in the long run.

It is very easy to end up misunderstanding each other, when you are not paying enough attention. We tend to interpret things the way we like it, when others never actually meant it. As a result people argue.

What to do in order to avoid this?

1. Don't multi-task. Hide that smartphone of yours in your pocket for a few minutes, it won't grow legs to run away from you. You don't like it either, do you, when a person you are talking to disperses their attention. No one likes. Be present in the moment.

2. Try to grasp the mood of the conversation. Nothing can be more disappointing than coming up with an inappropriate joke, when someone you are talking to is sad. Understanding each other requires catching the same wave.

3. Be patient. Stop interrupting and start listening. When you want to interrupt someone, because a brilliant response has just dawned upon you, give yourself a few seconds to consider how relevant it is. Apologise for interrupting instead of speaking over somebody who is already talking.

4. Don't take things personally. Listen to what they are saying, do not imagine anything they are not saying. If something was not clear enough, just ask. In order to avoid misunderstanding, check with your companion, whether what you heard was what they had actually meant.

5. Keep an open mind. Do not judge. You may well not like what they are saying, you may think that what they are telling you about was a stupid thing to do. Don't be in a hurry to voice your thoughts, however. Listen first. Find out all the details, reasons and grounds. Only then should you openly yet delicately express your attitude.

6. Do not impose your solutions or advice unless you are asked to. Majority of people just want you to listen. They are pretty capable of coming up with their own solutions, so they are convinced.

7. Finally, relax. Talking and listening is a good thing, albeit requiring some effort. Don't be afraid to interact with people. Share in return. No one likes to stand morally exposed, when no one else supports (or opposes) their point and contributes to discussion.

People love good listeners. Listening is a skill and is essential to thriving and effective relationships. It comes handy not only in personal communication, but in professional as well. Sometimes, listening can save your life. Or marriage. Or career. Who knows.

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