There's a talent that I wish I had more strongly than I
do. There are times when I'm a very good listener, but
there are other times when I do much more talking than I do
listening, and I think I lose a lot when I do that. I
lose the opportunity to learn from other people, I lose the
chance to find out how others are feeling, and I lose the
chance to allow someone else to vent their feelings and let
some important things out.
I think my biggest problem is that I'm a teacher by
profession, and as a matter of course, we're always expected
to have answers, no matter what. So I get used to
speaking and sharing my thoughts, and I get out of practice
with my listening, and learning from other people's
But when I do listen, I find that allowing others to do
the talking is one of the most rewarding experiences
around. Sometimes I can almost see people grow as they
share more and become more confident, more aware that
someone is showing them the respect of listening to their
ideas and thoughts.
When we listen to others, we validate the importance of
what they think, what they believe.
When we listen to others, we show them respect, and
respect adds to their feelings of dignity.
When we listen to others, we hear new ways of perceiving
things, often things that we take for granted.
Some of the most important conversations in my life have
been those in which I've said little to nothing, but in
which I've listened closely to what the other person has had
to say. And instead of trying to put in my two cents'
worth or sharing my experiences or ideas, I've asked
questions based on what the other person has said.
This focus on the other person and what he or she has been
saying has been beneficial to both of us, and I've walked
away from those conversations a richer person. Some of
the most important classes that I've taken have been the
ones in which I've simply sat and listened, and perhaps
asked a question or two for clarification or more
information. Asking such questions demonstrates that
one has, indeed, been listening, and that what someone else
has said is valuable.
Douglas Noll, a California lawyer
who specializes in "peacemaking and resolution of
intractable conflicts," puts it this way: "We
rarely have the experience of being deeply heard by others.
Most of the time, others tune out while we speak. When
we can listen to others, especially in deep, intractable
conflicts, we learn about ourselves and our capacities for
positive good. When we are listened to, we feel honest
respect and appreciation. Conflict cannot exist in
such an environment and harmony flourishes."
about your last conversation. How much do you remember
of what the other person said? How much could you
write down as a summary? And how much have you
forgotten? If you're like most people, you spent much
of your time thinking about your own responses rather than
listening to the other person. If you can break that
habit, you'll definitely be a richer person.
By the way,
listening to other people isn't the only way that listening
can make you richer. When was the last time you
stopped to listen to the wind blow through the trees?
Or stopped to listen to a river as it flowed past you, or
the crickets and frogs and other living things as they make
their music? When was the last time you
listened--truly listened--to a favorite song, paying
attention to the lyrics, the drums, the rhythm, the guitars
or strings? How about the sound of your own breathing,
or your heartbeat? There are so many things that we
can listen to regularly, but that we never take the time to
stop and truly hear, that it's kind of a shame--we're
robbing ourselves of a great opportunity to get a bit more
in tune with the world, to hear the magic and wonder that's
there all the time.
But we can hear it only if we make the
conscious choice to stop and listen.