The art of listening

Why we need to step up our game when it comes to listening to each other

‘One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say.’
— Bryant H. McGill

Around one year ago, I was sitting in a hospital consultancy room and was told that I was mildly deaf. Now that sounds very serious, but in reality it just meant that very minute sounds could go undetected by my ears, and that sometimes it takes me a moment to connect sound to meaning in my brain. On the bright side, it also means I’m a very deep sleeper (funny story: I once slept through a big crime scene that happened just outside my window in London). Why is this relevant? Because I realised that even though I had to strain to hear people when they were speaking sometimes, it didn’t mean I was listening at all. This had nothing to do with the fact that my ears aren’t perfect, but a lot to do with the fact that I was just not a very good listener. Why? Because I was listening to respond, not listening to listen.

So it got me thinking… what was making me a bad listener? Three reasons:

  • I was trying to impress people so found myself talking more and listening less
  • I didn’t care for the act of listening but cared about the act of being in a conversation
  • I was getting into conversations that lacked quality for the sake of talking

The repercussions of this meant that not only was I a bad listener, but also and more importantly, I failed to connect with people and be there with them in the moment.

Funnily enough, I realised I was a bad listener when I got into a conversation with someone and found that they were not hearing me at all. After that, I decided to change tactics and become more aware of the art of listening. How? Simply by reversing the above three reasons that made me a bad listener:

  • Stop trying to impress people — it just means that you have something to make up for, and according to Marcus Garvey: ‘If you have no confidence in self, you are twice defeated in the race of life.’
  • When you are in a conversation, be present. This means eye contact, affirmative body language and generally, being there. More than ever, there are so many distractions happening around us, that we let this impact our ability to focus (this is where meditation comes in handy).
  • We will not always have great conversations with every single person we come across, but when we do have an opportunity to truly listen to someone, even if it is for two minutes, take it. Silence gives us the opportunity to absorb, reflect and then add something of great quality to the conversation.

Being a good listener is simple, but a lot harder than it seems. But the more we try to become aware and connected to a person, chances are, we are already becoming better listeners.