The Wisdom in Listening

A funny thing happened between the time I pitched this article and sat down to write it. I was hired to a give a talk for cancer patients and their caregivers. As I started to review some of the empathetic/active listening materials I wanted to cover for the presentation, I was struck by what a good reminder it was to what a gift listening can be. It made my heart smile as I realized that God truly doesn’t waste anything.

Listening is a superpower. It’s one that is increasingly gaining recognition in business as an important leadership trait. Want to build a team? You need to be a good listener so your team members will feel comfortable sharing ideas and suggestions.

You want to resolve a conflict? Active listening will help you understand the underlying emotions driving the conflict. Want stronger relationships? Same, it’s all about listening.

Want to show someone that you love them? Listen to them. Being listened to is so powerful that it can give the speaker a little burst of serotonin, our body’s happiness chemical. This is why some people compare being heard to being loved. It’s because it gives them the same warm and fuzzies.

When you listen actively to what others are saying, you learn what’s important to them.  What they value. It lets you see things from their perspective. It allows you to acknowledge and validate their self-worth. In a world where things are happening at an accelerated rate, these are often overlooked details people are looking for in order to feel a connection with those around them. I’m not using hyperbole when I say that listening to someone is a gift you bestow upon them. Best of all it’s a gift that is free and priceless.

I mentioned earlier that I’m deep in preparation for a couple of presentations based on the experience of going through my late husband’s cancer treatment. As I look through my journals and piece together the story, I’m so grateful for all the conversations we had with each other despite the difficulty of the situation. One in particular always comes to mind, and that was the conversation regarding his service arrangements. It was something that had been on his mind and one day he just talked about it, and I sat and listened. I remember how relieved he looked when he was done telling me what he wanted and told me how glad he was that we’d talked about it.

So, my dear reader, listening is not always easy. Actually, it is rather difficult for a myriad of reasons. Sometimes that difficulty stems from our inability to see the other’s perspective due to our own thoughts, emotions, and experiences. This is often the case when we are in conflict with someone. But, our inability to listen can also come from our lack of practice.

Fortunately, active/empathetic listening is a skill that we can hone and practice, and to help you I’ve put together a list of the different techniques I’ve found useful in sharpening my listening skills.  See nothing wasted.

Four Techniques To Help You Prepare To Listen

  1. Step out of your world – It takes concentration on your part to make sure you are really hearing the other person, as well as a lot of sensitivity and generosity.  But there is no other way to begin the process of active/empathetic listening. You need to be intentional and not let your opinion accidentally slip out. Remember this is not about you.
  2. Enter their world – Understand their point of view and see the world as though you were looking at it through their eyes. In your efforts to understand them, you cannot rely only on words.  You must observe the person’s body language. How they look, their mannerisms, their tone of voice.
  3. Sense underlying feelings – Be a sensitive listener and try to identify words or expressions that hint at the emotions they are feeling. Are they happy, sad, worried? It is very consoling to someone when you appreciate their feelings and respond to them.
  1. Give an adequate response – Let them know you understand their feelings.  When you fail to give clear signs that you understand, the speaker is left in an awful quandary and wondering if you really understand. Acknowledge what you heard. What really counts is not the words but the feelings that you show and the tone of voice that tells them you understand.  

November is the time of the year where we gather with loved ones to give thanks for the blessings we have. This season I invite you to take the time to give them a couple of random acts of listening. I know they will enjoy it, and you’ll be surprised at how much you will too.


November 12, 2019