The Lost Art of Listening

I hung up on someone today. I’m ashamed to admit it. It was wrong and rude of me and I am sorry.

I hasten to add it was not on a coaching client. Still, it’s no excuse. As a Life and Business Coach I ought to know better. I’ll try harder next time…promise.

So how did this happen? The reason I hung up on this lady was that she absolutely would not listen to me. Half an hour of back and forth conversation getting us absolutely nowhere. My frustration mounted and mounted and…in the end I hung up…I gave up.

Perhaps you’ve had that feeling? The sheer, utter frustration of trying to communicate but failing miserably.  Being met with a brick wall…a deaf ear.

On the bright side it inspired me to write this short article on ‘The Lost Art of Listening’.

I really think that listening has become a lost art. How many of us take the time to really, really listen to someone? To really understand? In our helter, skelter world we all are busy and want to get our point across. So much so that when someone is speaking we aren’t really listening. We’re just waiting (usually impatiently) for them to stop talking so we can talk. Isn’t it true? We just want them to shut up long enough so we can have our say and in the meantime the art of listening is lost.

Even if we do attempt to listen how many of us really listen honestly and openly – willing to have our opinions changed? We listen from a fixed point of view mostly. We have our beliefs and for the most part dynamite wouldn’t shift them. We filter whatever comes to us through our own ‘reality tunnel’ – our version of things – and if it agrees great, we’re happy and if it doesn’t we immediately leap to defend our own hardened positions. But that is not really listening is it? It’s filtering…

Reminds me of a story the late Tony De Mello told. A guy met an old friend. ‘Tom, how you’ve changed.’ he says. ‘You were so tall, now you’ve become so short. You were so strong, now you’ve become so thin, you were so fair, now you’ve become so dark.’ The friend answers ‘I’m not Tom, I’m John.’ The first guy says ‘So you’ve changed your name too?’

See? Listening from his own fixed position. Not really listening, not really hearing, not really understanding.

So how do you listen? How do you gain the glorious insights you might get from another human being and their life experience? It’s simple.

You just listen.

You are open to their words and body language. You drop your agenda. You drop your preconceived notions. You drop your similar experiences – and particularly that story you want to jump in with. You drop your judgement as to whether they are good or bad, right or wrong, intelligent or stupid. You drop everything but your open, awareness and attention. You don’t talk over the other person, you don’t plan what you are going to say when they finally finish. You just shut up and listen.

And oh the joy of being listened to! The joy of being with someone who really takes the time to listen and to understand, with no agenda, no expectation, no nothing – just giving you the time and space to express yourself fully and to be heard. How wonderful. How rare.

Anyway that’s my tuppence worth. Perhaps I should have listened to that lady more. Hanging up is certainly not listening. I guess I need to take my own medicine. I definitely need to brush up on this art of listening myself. Oh well, h(ears) to next time!!!