One of the most fundamental human needs is to be heard; to have the feeling that the person looking right at us is also getting what we’re saying.
That s/he is really listening to us.
Buy why is that experience so rare? Look at talk shows, the American Congress, or just witness people in social and business situations and for the most part you’ll find that people are not listening but rather waiting their turn to speak so that they can defend, manipulate, avoid, influence, impress, dominate, etc.
It’s great to be heard
When you do have that rare occasion of someone really listening to you, it’s a profound experience and you’re often moved to acknowledge the person for this rare gift of listening.
In those special instances, you have the experience of someone not resisting what you’re saying, that the person “gets” you and where you are coming from.
You have the experience of someone not judging you, and you will seek that person out again the next time you need to be heard.
You grow when you listen
When you are really listening, you not only learn new information, you learn what it’s like to be someone else, you are able to see the world through their eyes, you understand their unique life circumstance and how they came to believe what they believe, how they feel what feel, and why they react the way they react.
This is the stuff of compassion; and every time you practice compassion—by really listening—you not only give a gift to the other person: you grow.
The consequences of not listening are great
The consequences of not being heard can be seen in a variety of forms, and they are always not good. They include: intransigence, intolerance, belligerence, neediness, paranoia, low self-esteem, low office morale, hatred and violence. All of these can be traced to people having the habitual experience of not being heard.
The world and your life would be better
It’s not a gigantic leap of faith to believe that we would alleviate much of the human suffering in the world; arguments, disputes, wars, famines etc., if we simply understood each other.
And you don’t need to be a psychologist to know that understanding each other begins with listening.
In one personal development course I took many years ago, many participants were able to heal relationships, and discover love and respect for people that they blamed all their lives for one reason or another, simply because (during the course) they listened to the person they had been blaming for the very first time.
Many of them heard things that were never explicitly said, but for the first time they “got” what it was like for the other person, and they were able to forgive, ask to be forgiven and have the actual experience of love between them.
Why aren’t we taught this in school?
But then why are we not taught to listen as part of our formative education?
That’s a good one, and my guess is that we’ve never been taught listening as a basic skill because of the following reasons:
- Our educational practices were designed in a time when following specific instructions, doing specific skills and conformity was all that was required. These were the qualities valued by factories and factory like environments. If our focus was/is to train people to do what they’re told, we can be excused for not teaching listening as a basic skill.
- We’ve never thought of listening as a skill. Possibly because people thought that listening is a biological function. You can hear, ergo you can listen.
- Listening is your responsibility, as is diet, exercise and thinking. True, but it doesn’t mean we naturally know how to do any of those things.
- Also, we failed to make the connection between the absence of listening and what is wrong with our relationships and the world. We failed to acknowledge that a necessary starting point to transforming how we relate to each other, how we work together, how we solve each other’s problems begins with learning how to listen.
- Most of us think we are listening, when we’re not.
So what’s a talker to do?
If you acknowledge that your listening skills are poor, then you’ll know that you’re the only one that can do anything about it.
The best place to start is to read. Seek out books—last I checked there were over 7,000 on Amazon alone. Any of the top five or ten books on Amazon will be a good place to start.
Then seek out a course that can help. (Books alone are rarely enough to cause meaningful change.) The communication courses at Landmark Education are also a great place to start, and ask your friends.
The skill of listening is not generally accepted education, so the recommendations of your friends or people you know who are lifelong learners may be your best resource.
Lastly, you could start asking this question at your PTA meetings and to your local, regional and national officials responsible for educating our children.
“Why aren’t we teaching our children the skill of listening?”
Be prepared for a blank stare.