Are You Listening?

In his book, The Lost Art of Listening, Michael Nichols says that effective listening requires attention, appreciation, and affirmation. Though listening may be silent, it should never be passive. However, it’s interesting how often times it is difficult to fully pay attention. It takes effort to focus, and stay focused, on the person who is talking. Appreciation generally has to do with the listener’s frame of reference–do I really care about this person and what they have to say? The truth is, if I am to affirm what they share with me, I need to pay attention and care about the details and their feelings about the details.

Sometimes it’s easier and quicker to offer advice. If we’re sure of ourselves we might say, “If you take my advice, you will surely solve your problem, if you take my advice but fail to solve your problem, you didn’t try hard enough,or if you fail to take my advice, I did the best I could.” This way, no matter how things turn out, we’re covered. Maybe that explains why we often feel that “no one really sees us, hears us, or understands us.” How can we understand when instead of listening deeply, we rush to repair each other?

When you open up about your life you don’t necessarily want to be fixed. You may simply want to be seen and heard. The best thing I can do is give you my undivided attention, thank you for being honest, and acknowledge, or affirm the validity of your experience or feelings. This takes time, energy and patience. It seems like we tend to seek safety in abstraction, sharing our opinions, ideas and beliefs, instead of learning about ourselves and each other. But when we speak and listen from the heart, we find common bonds in the shared details of the human journey.