Listening can be the most valuable thing you might ever do. Listening can make all the difference. To you and to the person to whom you are listening.

To listen, perchance to learn. If you are blessed with a functional ear or ears, then listening should be the easiest thing in the world. Yet learning to listen well can prove surprisingly challenging. Your hearing is a sense that is always active. Hearing can snap you out of deepest sleep into instant alert at an unexpected sound. To listen – and moreso to listen well – is a skill that needs to be honed.

Most people you meet would like nothing more than to get what is bothering them off their chest, and will be only too delighted to have the opportunity so to do. But not so many people will necessarily be interested in the listening part of the equation.

Good listening can make so much difference. All the more delightful for those doing the unburdening is that rare feeling that they are being listened to, that their words are landing, that the listener truly understands.

An act of empathy


To listen well is not as easy as just allowing the other person to say their piece. There is so much more that a good listener brings to the conversation, and so much value that a good listener can gain from it. Writing about How to be a better listener in The New York Times, Adam Bryant stresses the centrality of empathy to good listening:

“Listening, done well, is an act of empathy. You are trying to see the world through another person’s eyes, and to understand their emotions. That’s not going to happen if you are judging the other person as they’re talking. It will dampen the conversation, because you will be sending all sorts of subtle nonverbal cues that you have an opinion about what they’re saying. If you go into the discussion with the main goal of understanding their perspective, free of any judgment, people will open up to you, because they will feel they can trust you to respect what they are saying.”

Listening is catching


Listening is a skill that cannot be perfected. Even good listeners know deep down that they can do it still better.

“Listening is a skill that we could all do with sharpening.” So says Annalisa Barbieri in her article ‘Be interested, be curious, hear what’s not said’: how I learned to really listen to people, in which she shares her key learning about listening:

“The good news is that listening is catching. If you feel listened to, it connects you to that other person, and those bonds grow. They, one hopes, will listen to you in turn.”

I love these words. Listening is catching. It is catching in the sense that it is contagious. But listening is also catching in the sense that the listener can glean so much wisdom and understanding if they listen closely, and with compassion and empathy. People are always telling you more than they or you realise. Annalisa says:

“Listening, I discovered, wasn’t just about waiting for the other person to stop talking, or asking good questions, or even not interrupting. It was about really hearing what the other person was saying, and why they were saying it. Being interested, but also curious. Sometimes that means looking for what’s not said, what’s left out, which words are used to mask emotions that are hard to acknowledge. Likewise, good listening is about approaching what has been said as if you’ve never heard it before. Put simply, it’s about paying attention.”

Gentle reader: Listen to what is going on around you today. Listen not just to what those you encounter you are saying to you, but try also to tune in to what they are really trying to say. If you encounter silence, listen intently to that silence. Even silence can have a message for you. And when another soul speaks to you, listen with compassion and empathy.

May you be nothing but kind today, to others and to yourself.

May today be nothing but kind to you and yours.



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