Though ‘listening’ implies passive reception, it is actually a highly active process of responding to the speaker’s ‘whole message’. It means not only hearing the words, but also noticing visual cues like body language, the pace of breathing and eye movements.
Learning to listen properly is not a one-lesson exercise. Being able too pay attention fully to another – keeping our focus on them without jumping to conclusions or allowing our biases and judgements to occlude what we are hearing and observing – is an ongoing process of keeping our listening habits up to standard.
We act as if we don’t have time to listen, the modern pace of life with its attitudes to ‘getting things done’ emphasises outcomes and results. Listening is an activity which produces results, of course, but to do it properly means we must focus only on the process… the outcome sometimes has to wait.
If all this sounds a bit too much like hard work, it needn’t be. You already have all the abilities you need, they are part of the normal human repertoire of communication skills. If it’s true that most of us could do with improving our listening, it’s also true that all it really takes is self-awareness and practice.
If you need encouragement, remember how it felt the last time you gave another your fullest attention and simply listened. You may have noticed that to do it purposefully is an exercise in mindfulness. The benefits for the listener make a long list, and genuine listening provides some respite from having to get results elsewhere.