WHAT IF WE REALLY LISTENED to people, instead
of doing what passes for listening most of the time? The person
talking to you would have an extraordinary experience. With your
observational powers on full throttle, you'd perceive more than
you normally do, and your speaker would feel that something uncommon
was taking place. Not only would you understand the speaker's
words, but you'd grasp her small nuances of meaning. You'd perceive
how she feels about you. You'd understand more of her personality.
And you'd probably know something of what she's leaving unsaid
The difference between you (fully listening)
and other listeners (with minds wandering) would be so noticeable
as to be startling.
Why is this important? Because your overall
effectiveness in life depends on your ability to deal with people
well. This discipline of listening will send your ability with
people into another league entirely!
A man once said of Sigmund Freud, "He
struck me so forcibly that I shall never forget him. His eyes
were mild and genial. His voice was low and kind. His gestures
were few. But the attention he gave me, his appreciation of what
I said, even when I said it badly, was extraordinary. You've
no idea what it meant to be listened to like that."
Fully concentrating your attention on the
speaker is only the beginning of better listening. It's a necessary
first step, like the undercoat of a painting, but it's only the
To be a first-class listener, you'd encourage
the speaker, you'd let her know with your nods and expressions
and body language that you appreciate what she's saying, that
you enjoy the conversation, and most of all, that you respect
When you listen this way, you won't be
silent. You won't be passive. On the contrary, you'll be exerting
yourself because you need to be doing several things simultaneously:
You're taking in the information; you're picking up on the emotional
significance being communicated; you're letting the speaker know
that you understand and appreciate what she's saying-and you're
doing all this without interrupting her flow of speech.
Also, when you're listening well, you're
asking the person questions that she'll enjoy answering or questions
that she'll find valuable to answer; you're helping her clarify
what she's saying so she's left with more understanding about
herself after she's done talking with you; and you're communicating
silently to the speaker that you respect what she's saying, even
when you disagree.
When you do disagree, learn to avoid
making a direct assertion that disagrees or invalidates her ideas.
Instead, learn to say, "I feel that such and such is the
case. I may be wrong but I got my information in this magazine
(or wherever you got it)."
This is a lot to do simultaneously. It's
not easy. It's a discipline. Treat it like any other difficult
skill and practice, practice, practice. The benefits to the person
speaking are the satisfaction of being heard and understood.
The person gets the joy of intimacy, a feeling of closeness,
and the rare experience of talking with someone who really cares.
And what about you? You'll become a better
person by practicing this discipline you'll grow stronger
and more perceptive. You'll improve your ability to concentrate.
Your relationships will be more strongly bonded. You'll understand
more about the people in your life.
So practice listening. It will teach you
about yourself and other people, and you'll win loyal allies
and lifelong friends.
As a personal discipline, practice
listening well when someone is talking to you.