The Importance of Listening

If you want to create an authentic connection, there is nothing more important than listening. Yet most of us – if we’re being honest – prefer talking to listening.

I know introverts often feel they are great listeners, but I also know that half the time, they’re silently judging how annoying those never-shut-up extroverts are.

So even though I just wrote about this recently, it seems worthwhile to link to this New York Times piece about the art of listening. 

“We are encouraged to listen to our hearts, our inner voices and our guts, but rarely are we encouraged to listen carefully and purposefully to other people. Instead, we talk over one another at cocktail parties, work meetings and even family dinners. Online and in person, it’s all about defining yourself, shaping the narrative and staying on message.

And yet, listening can be more valuable than speaking. Wars have been fought, fortunes lost and friendships wrecked for lack of listening. It is only by listening that we engage, understand, empathize, cooperate and develop as human beings. It is fundamental to any successful relationship — personal, professional and political.”

The Internet. Facebook. Texting. All are great for expression and terrible for listening and nuanced discussion.

Want to trace the polarization of this country? Look no further than the rise of technology. The Internet. Facebook. Texting. All are great for expression and terrible for listening and nuanced discussion.

I’m really proud of the 135,000 comments on this blog and the laissez-faire moderation I do (deleting personal insults, allowing just about all other topic-related commentary) and yet our regular commenters still come to defend their worldview but rarely acknowledge learning something valid about someone else’s experience.

This is what I learned about myself from reading the linked article:

Because our brains can think a lot faster than people can talk, beware of the tendency to take mental side trips when you should be listening. Smart people are particularly apt to get distracted by their own galloping thoughts. They are also more likely to assume they already know what the other person is going to say…

How you listen can work like a self-fulfilling prophecy: If you’re barely listening to someone because you think that person is boring or not worth your time, you could actually make it so. Moreover, listening to other people makes it more likely other people will listen to you. This is partly because it’s human nature to return courtesies, but also because good listening improves your chances of delivering a message that resonates.

Listening is a skill. And as with any skill, it degrades if you don’t do it enough. Some people may have stronger natural ability while others may have to work harder, but each of us can become a better listener with practice. The more people you listen to, the more aspects of humanity you will recognize, and the better your instincts will be. Listening well can help you understand other people’s attitudes and motivations, which is essential in building cooperative and productive relationships, as well as discerning which relationships you’d be better off avoiding.

Amen. Your thoughts, below, are greatly appreciated.