The Art of Listening and Giving Damns

The average person receives very little high-quality listening from other people, probably less than five or ten minutes a week.
William Miller and Kathleen Jackson

"The Edison Phonograph". 1905 promot...

Listening is high art.

Sure, all of us are compulsive hearers – what with all of the televisions, talking heads, and fancy record players – but few of us listen and few are ever really listened to. Apparently we’re losing the skills, or maybe the attention span, required by this cognitively demanding process. So if you care about others, or at least want to resemble a decent human being, learn how to listen.

Here are some practical steps to get you there:

  1. Give a damn. Aka: “care about people.” This involves seeing worth in the mundane elements of other people’s lives. This means learning to love humanity in all of its boring glory.
  2. Stop giving advice. Nothing stops conversation or short-circuits the listening process like offering someone else your totally-thought-out answers to all of their problems.
  3. Stop disagreeing. Disagreeing is fine, in fact it’s fun. We do it all the time on this blog. But if you want to practice listening for 30 seconds, don’t physically deny or verbally disagree with the person speaking.
  4. Stop agreeing. Excessive agreement is patronizing. Period. Stop nodding your head every two seconds and interrupting with your “uh huh”s. Suspend your judgement (one way or another) just long enough to hear something you, yourself, aren’t saying.
  5. Have patience. While you’re at it, momentarily suspend that all-out-pursuit of your own happiness. Learning to stay with someone on the edge of their experience is the hardest part of listening.
  6. Be comfortable with yourself. If you aren’t comfortable with yourself, have fun guessing what this person is/isn’t saying about you, but don’t plan on doing a whole lot of listening.
  7. Communicate acceptance. No, you may not agree with what someone says, but you can accept that this is what they feel. Respect doesn’t imply agreement, it implies you’re a grown-up that can talk about ideas other than your own.
  8. Remember that trite saying; “You have two ears and one mouth for a reason.” Seriously ask yourself why you exist. If your answer is “to stare into the mirror for eternity,” that’s awesome. I’m sure you’re an interesting person. Let’s talk sometime.

More from Miller and Jackson here.

Allen Marshall O'Brien

Allen Marshall O’Brien is the pastor of a UCC church in Northern California and co-host of the Irenicast. He believes in the importance of education, peace, and ecology, throws things to his border collie Sonata, and writes for multiple platforms.

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  • Great post Annabel and from the heart. And that I think is the secret – true listening requires giving from the heart – concentrating on the other and not thinking of ourselves. And watching because so much of a true conversation is about much more than words.