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“A good listener tries to understand what the other person is saying. In the end he may disagree sharply, but because he disagrees, he wants to know exactly what it is he is disagreeing with.”

Kenneth A. Wells


 

Few years ago (I would’ve said 100 years ago so you can treat this post seriously), a lecturer teaching communication skills — which is nothing but assorted English Language covered with make-up — talked about various codes and systems of communication — another simple thing made complex to make higher education worth it.

I  learnt something important from him then, he said communication is not complete unless there is a positive feedback. In other words, you say come, the person hears come, acknowledges it, and then eventually comes to you.

But ironically, it doesn’t always happen like that. Words are often lost in translation and sometimes they are even not heard because one of the parties involved was not paying attention.

So how do we get clarity?

How do we listen?

Is it by hearing what a person has to say or it involves more?

 

An article on skillsyouneedtolearn.com provided an answer. Listening, it said is not the same as hearing. Hearing refers to sound, while listening requires more than that: it requires focus. Listening involves paying attention not only to the story but also how it is told. The use of language and voice and how the other person uses his or her body. In other words, it is being aware of both verbal and none verbal messages.

This is a complicated simple, as most times we find ourselves asking people to listen to us.

“Can you hear me?” is everyone’s favorite way of doing that.

We want to ensure clarity, and especially when we are on the phone, we want to make sure we are not monologuing. But do we give others what we desire from them?

 

I believe all humans desire connection, both internal and external. We yearn to connect with ourselves on a deeper level which helps us connect with others. Ralph Nichols described it better “The most basic of all human needs is the need to understand and be understood.  The best way to understand people is to listen to them.” 

 

According to that lecturer, listening is an important communication skill, and most problems will be avoided if we only choose to listen properly. A friend, Uweh Mighty once said, “most times, we listen to respond instead of to understand.” It was just catchy when he said it, but now, I understand better and so I try to understand instead of thinking of a response and if I don’t, there is no crime in shutting up.

 

On social media, most people  do not want to listen to a contrary opinion. The civil ones warn you to shove your opinion up your ass, while some will just hit the block button. To them it’s their wall, their timeline, and so their opinion reigns supreme. No time to listen to any rubbish. John Byran said ‘You have to be willing sometimes to listen to some remarkable bad opinions. Because if you say to someone “That’s the silliest thing I’ve ever heard; get on out of here! Then you will never get anything again out of that person again, and you might as well have a puppet on a string or a robot.’

 

Likewise, people do not want to hear friends and family say something different from what they want to hear. Immediately it is different, the person becomes an enemy. This is a red flag we ought to see if we listen to ourselves. When you begin to disagree even before you hear what the other person has to say, when you consistently switch off and wander off because the idiot talking is not worth your attention, it’s time to check how well you do on the listening scale.

 
I am not suggesting you accept everything, that’s far from it. I recommend we learn to entertain thoughts that are contrary to ours. That we learn to listen to The Other— even when the other is ourselves, especially when it’s ourselves.

 

Black and White Portrait of an Old man

Photocredits ThePhotoNomad

Dietrich Bonhoeffer surmised that; the first service that one owes to others in the fellowship consists in listening to them. Just as love to God begins with listening to His Word, so the beginning of love for the brethren is learning to listen to them. It is God’s love for us that He not only gives us His Word but also lends us His ear.

So it is His work that we do for our brother when we learn to listen to him. Christians, especially ministers, so often think they must always contribute something when they are in the company of others, that this is the one service they have to render. They forget that listening can be a greater service than speaking.

Many people are looking for an ear that will listen. They do not find it among Christians, because these Christians are talking where they should be listening. But he who can no longer listen to his brother will soon be no longer listening to God either; he will be doing nothing but prattle in the presence of God too.


This is the beginning of the death of the spiritual life, and in the end there is nothing left but spiritual chatter and clerical condescension arrayed in pious words. One who cannot listen long and patiently will presently be talking beside the point and be never really speaking to others, albeit he be not conscious of it. Anyone who thinks that his time is too valuable to spend keeping quiet will eventually have no time for God and his brother, but only for himself and for his own follies.”

 

I am learning to listen better and hear the noise in silence.  I believe if you are silent enough, you will hear things you didn’t know exist. The universe is a collection of chaos, huge noise boomers forced into a fine rhythm. But when we listen on a micro-level we grasp more. You hear your heart beat, you hear air rush in and out of you nostrils. You hear a crunchy carrot melt in your mouth. You hear water gulp down your throat. You hear the sole of your feet pounce on the ground. These are sounds birthed from silence. It’s the same with listening more. You begin to hear a love ones say things you’ve never heard before but that he/she has been saying all along.

 

Listening isn’t rocket science, and just as I have shared in previous posts, it’s a weakness I am working on improving. I want to go beyond hearing, I want to listen. I want to understand what people say, to grasp unspoken words and I believe you too can, and you should.

 


 

“When people talk, listen completely.

Most people never listen.”

Ernest Hemingway.

 


 

 

 

Further Reading

The links for some of the quotes used on this article are provided below;

On Listening: Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Advice to Christians

 

Listening Skills

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