Listen Closely. . . .
tom walsh


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 thoughts.

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."

Think 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.


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