Monthly Archives: October 2014

Some Listening Guidelines

Martin Buber, a twentieth-century existential philosopher and theologian said that” he could never hold a significant conversation with another person until he had heard the other person’s life story.” The reason behind his statement is that trust and understanding of others requires listening as a way to make meaningful connections. Listening needs to come first and immediately among people who are interacting. We need the experience of listening to know that we are not alone in the world. Listening allows us to form relationships and communities that challenge and support us as individuals.

Think about the radical nature of this view of the importance of listening! It changes much of the behavior we bring to situations we encounter in our lives. What happens when we meet others and we set ourselves the task of listening before we start to talk? After introductions and pleasantries what occurs if we ask a question of welcome and forego a statement about ourselves. Likely our interactions take on a different character that structures the time together around sharing.

It may seem a bit daunting at first. It’s not, however, a way of “psychologizing” interactions and relationships. It is a way of finding your freedom to “be yourself” by encouraging another to talk while you listen with attention, respect and lively curiosity.

Approaching interactions as a mutual invitation to experience the opportunity to listen and to speak clears the way for each person to respond and to ask clarifying questions. Time for conversation whether long or short happens naturally and easily, but, it starts with listening.

The Importance of Listening for Love, Limits, and Learning

Listening is one of the greatest gifts we give to ourselves and to each other. Skillful listening involves attention, gestures and a willingness to engage and focus. All of the questionnaires and “tests” I’ve shared in this blog require listening for understanding and sharing. Listening is the basis for love; listening is the way we experience boundaries or limits; listening is how we learn about others and how we grow ourselves.

There is a distinction between “hearing” and “listening” that is deeply embedded in our English language. “Listen” is derived from the Anglo-Saxon word “hlystan” which means “hearing” and the word “hlosnian” which means to “wait in suspense”. When we listen, hearing what is said is combined with an intense psychological involvement between us and others.

Listening involves hearing several things in any interaction:

  • What is described? (Facts, events, situations, information conveyed)
  • How does another person feel? How do you feel?
  • Where is the energy? Where is the emphasis?
  • What are the bodies saying? Both the speaker’s body and the hearer’s body have actions and reactions that are important for listening.

Effective listening develops from a desire to acquire a skill that brings out the best in yourself and at the same time respects the dignity of other people. Common sense tells us that listening well improves our relationships. Steady practice in listening better is a habit that enhances meaningfulness among us. Listening leads to happiness.

Dr. Margaret Rappaport