The Power of Listening – and the challenge of remembering to do it

Listening

Now listen – no, really – just listen up for a minute. It’s common knowledge that most of us aren’t very good listeners. (By the way, “it’s common knowledge” is a cunning writer’s ploy that means “surely you don’t expect me to back this statement up?”.) Well anyway, I think that, in general, most of the time, in most instances, by and large (oh dear, drifting into Sir Humphrey Appleby mode) – most of us ain’t very good listeners. What’s more, we think we are – and are thereby deluded.

In reality we commonly respond to what someone else is saying by offering advice, changing the subject (probably to our own story) or, most commonly of all, simply by interrupting. It’s true. It really…no, let me finish…it really is true. I do it. You do it. we all do it. You know we do.

Consequently we frequently fail to understand what’s being said to us – or why. And thereby hangs many a sorry tale of frustration, conflict and sub-fruitful conversation. But all is not lost.

We can learn a better way. I learnt by doing a course. You could probably learn on many different courses, I suppose. But the one I did is called The Marriage Course. Because it focuses on marriage, unsurprisingly. Not, it has to be said, that the need for listening is limited to married people. Just that it’s a key skill for that particular relationship. Anyhoo, this course, or this particular bit of it, teaches you to realise what a naff listener you are most of the time and then shows you how it’s possible to listen – really listen – and reflect back what you heard and ask the right questions without jumping in with size 12’s and just champing at the bit to say your next line. It makes you try it out. And trying it out makes you see how badly you do it most of the time.

It also makes you resolve to do it properly in future. Until the next time a tricky conversation arises, at which point you (OK, I) forget everything you (yes, yes, alright – I) learned and jump right back in with those size 12’s again and remember waaay too late that you should have been listening and not jumping to conclusions; that you should have been reflecting back and not offering solutions or slowly losing your cool. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.

This sorry state of affairs is akin to buying a hammer and then trying to knock nails in with your fist: it’s ineffective, painful and completely unnecessary. The key to this self-inflicted misery is simply this: use the tool you acquired earlier. Just, as they say, do it. Much better. And admittedly easier said than done. But done it must be.

So I commend to you the power of listening. I commend to you learning how to do it better. But most of all I commend to you doing better than me at remembering to listen in real life.

And please – don’t try knocking nails in with your fist.

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