Listening Not Just to Respond

The article “You Are Either Listening or You’re Not” opens with the line “listening is endangered in America today,” and that caught my attention immediately. It goes on to say that listening, truly listening to what someone says is not something that we were ever taught but we were just expected to know. With time, we are all expected to develop the skill that is taking a step back and really hearing what someone else has to say rather than just listening for the sake of thinking of something to respond back. When I really think about it, and think about past experiences and past conversations that I’ve had, I realize that this skill is not something that develops at the same pace in everyone. Some people are the best listeners (and therefore the best people to talk to, in my opinion), and some people treat nearly every conversation like a race to get to their own personal point.

I’m not going to pretend that I’m the best listener in the world. Admittedly, I like to talk about myself and relate situations to things that I have experienced. But I am noticing this in myself and trying to be more conscious about it. I’ve been developing my listening skill through this realization and I tell myself that some conversations – especially those in which the other person has sought me out specifically to tell me about a problem of their own – should really remain focused on the other person. I tell myself that some conversations do not require a relatable anecdote or honest advice; sometimes, they just need someone on the other end who will listen.

I do think that the era that we live in has made it harder to truly focus and listen. With the ample distractions that surround us on a day to day basis, it is so easy for our minds to wander and wonder and not retain the attention span necessary to carry on a simple conversation. For example, my friend from high school visited this weekend – I hadn’t seen her in months – and despite the fact that I am actually very interested in what she’s been up to and how her life has been since the time that we last saw each other, I still found myself distracted by the devices and people around me. A text will pop up on my phone and I’ll immediately lose some of the focus that I had on a conversation, and I’ll noticed myself missing a few words and phrases here and there because I’m preoccupied thinking about what the message says on my device. For all of these reasons, I am trying to make more and more of a conscious effort to unplug and be as present as possible when I am listening to the people that I care about most.

One other part of the article that I was drawn to was the paragraph talking about how listening begins with humility – “the humility to ask an earnest question without assuming you already know the answer.” That is one of the things that I love most about getting to know new people: I want to know more about their lives and experiences and hear things that I am not already aware of. Why, then, in these conversations should I be anything less than the best listener I could strive to be? Learning is primarily listening, and as someone constantly hungry for more knowledge, it would serve me well to focus more and more each day on developing this essential life skill.

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