The Importance of Listening

The Importance of Listening

If you want to create an authentic connection, there is nothing more important than listening. Yet most of us – if we’re being honest – prefer talking to listening.

I know introverts often feel they are great listeners, but I also know that half the time, they’re silently judging how annoying those never-shut-up extroverts are.

So even though I just wrote about this recently, it seems worthwhile to link to this New York Times piece about the art of listening. 

“We are encouraged to listen to our hearts, our inner voices and our guts, but rarely are we encouraged to listen carefully and purposefully to other people. Instead, we talk over one another at cocktail parties, work meetings and even family dinners. Online and in person, it’s all about defining yourself, shaping the narrative and staying on message.

And yet, listening can be more valuable than speaking. Wars have been fought, fortunes lost and friendships wrecked for lack of listening. It is only by listening that we engage, understand, empathize, cooperate and develop as human beings. It is fundamental to any successful relationship — personal, professional and political.”

The Internet. Facebook. Texting. All are great for expression and terrible for listening and nuanced discussion.

Want to trace the polarization of this country? Look no further than the rise of technology. The Internet. Facebook. Texting. All are great for expression and terrible for listening and nuanced discussion.

I’m really proud of the 135,000 comments on this blog and the laissez-faire moderation I do (deleting personal insults, allowing just about all other topic-related commentary) and yet our regular commenters still come to defend their worldview but rarely acknowledge learning something valid about someone else’s experience.

This is what I learned about myself from reading the linked article:

Because our brains can think a lot faster than people can talk, beware of the tendency to take mental side trips when you should be listening. Smart people are particularly apt to get distracted by their own galloping thoughts. They are also more likely to assume they already know what the other person is going to say…

How you listen can work like a self-fulfilling prophecy: If you’re barely listening to someone because you think that person is boring or not worth your time, you could actually make it so. Moreover, listening to other people makes it more likely other people will listen to you. This is partly because it’s human nature to return courtesies, but also because good listening improves your chances of delivering a message that resonates.

Listening is a skill. And as with any skill, it degrades if you don’t do it enough. Some people may have stronger natural ability while others may have to work harder, but each of us can become a better listener with practice. The more people you listen to, the more aspects of humanity you will recognize, and the better your instincts will be. Listening well can help you understand other people’s attitudes and motivations, which is essential in building cooperative and productive relationships, as well as discerning which relationships you’d be better off avoiding.

Amen. Your thoughts, below, are greatly appreciated.

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  1. 1

    as a matter of fact, not listening has been a constant issue on first (and last..) dates, as well as the top reason for fighting and giving up on my baby daddy.
    He literally couldn’t let you finish a frigging sentence, no matter what, and his Mother does just the same.
    I got so mad once at a family gathering, I was trying to tell a short fun anecdote about my toddler and my mother in law just interrupted me after like two sentences the cute anecdote clearly wasn’t done, I didn’t deliver the punchline, I got so frustrated I said out loud CAN ANYONE IN THIS FAMILY JUST LISTEN OR DO YOU ALL HAVE ADHD???
    I don’t regret it at all.
    I don’t care if they all think I am rude and aggressive, it’s on them.

  2. 2

    Wow, this really resonated, particularly the art of deep listening and not judging or leaping ahead; as that in itself, ruins the experience via self fulfilling prophecy. I have been guilty of that also, despite my overall pretty decent listening skills (strangers constantly pounce out of nowhere at parties, grocery stores, etc. to tell me their life story because of this. 🙂 ) Because there are so few people who have mastered the art of truly listening; we are a people starving to be truly heard. Because talking releases dopamine in the brain and listening actively is hard work. Most people have also not mastered the art of conversation; ie ramblers, bores, etc. That being said, listening well is still a super power and if you can do it, will yield huge rewards even with those you think have nothing to say or are even rude, opinionated. If you listen long enough you get some good stuff and they won’t be able to stop talking because it’s such a rush to be truly heard; it’s like crack. I have closed client deals where I had no idea what I was doing so just listened and said little as I had no choice. They thought I was “brilliant.” If you want to rule the world, shut up. You might learn something new, change your mind, or at least make that other person feel special; they won’t forget it or you.

    1. 2.1
      Cindy Knapp

      Hi Michelle,
      I really enjoyed reading your response. I do love to listen but I’m also guilty of checking out at times due to lack of interest. The majority of the time, I like sitting back, throwing out a few key questions and listen. Thank you for the input. 🙂

  3. 3
    Malika With an L

    Listening is a very important skill, but one that gets zero appreciation in all areas of life. I have worked at places where the one that shouts the loudest gets his or her advice implemented, even if it’s terrible and where very capable employees with good results got fired because they weren’t yacking everyone’s ears off. I have groups of friends where some talk on and on AND ON, whereby they are literally talking against a wall while everyone has moved on to another part of the room. Needless to say these are the ones that are touted as brilliant. And never mind the amount of times friends of both genders have overlooked the great person with a calm demeanour for the more excitable person that has great banter but can hardly remember a thing about their date… So colour me sceptical if i think this skill is going to get its due any time soon.

    I do think the commenters here are way more into listening than you give them credit for. They do not have to agree or acquiesce in order to have truly listened to another commenter or your article. They just have very sound arguments for why they think the opposite of others posting, and I love how they introduce me to alternative ideas on dating and relationships. It’s a very enjoyable part of this blog and provides a great supplement to your insightful posts.

    1. 3.1

      Malika, thank you for that. I completely agree with your comment ‘They do not have to agree or acquiesce in order to have truly listened to another commenter or your article.’

      You and Michelle describe two different contexts of listening that funnily yield different results. I agree with you that in group settings at work, the loudest ones usually get listened to the most, and not enough credit is given to the quiet and thoughtful ones. At the same time, I have also experienced what Michelle describes, of people (usually men) calling me ‘brilliant’ when I hardly said a word, just listened to them go on and on. 🙂 It’s quite comical actually. But that shows how deeply people want to be listened to.

      1. 3.1.1
        Malika With an L

        Well, it is brilliant of you that you keep on listening!

        Truly listening to people yields such powerful insights, it is how you truly gather wisdom. I have experienced people being agog if i reminded them of something they said a while back. That you have not only listened to them, but have processed what they said and either applied it in another situation in life or had further thoughts on what they said… It doesn’t happen often, but makes people very seen and appreciated.

        1. Michelle

          Malika and Jo, I think you both captured the power of listening; we all agree there. One thing to add; listening IS the most powerful position. It’s not passive.The noisy blowhards appear to get their way and be in the power position, but that is not the case in the long run. They are tolerated by management, not promoted. And people who ramble on and on diminish how others perceive them. Think about the hyper chatty woman you know at work or in business. Makes them appear a little dingy, even if they aren’t. ((Women have to be careful here…the hyper chatty convo makes you look nervous and insecure instead of friendly and enthusiastic, not fair but true) Think about a meeting where everyone was yacking away and then the “quiet one” spoke up with something meaningful and everyone shut up. But there is a difference, not speaking up out of fear or resenting everyone else speaking and you not having your turn, is not listening. It’s seething. There is a difference.

        2. Malika With an L

          Hi Michelle:

          I actually took a photo of your comment and have it in my phone for safekeeping! It’s a good boost for days when i feel i will not get ahead because i like to listen and really connect with what people are saying and not just spout my own opinion.

  4. 4

    Interesting points. Goes to the definition of listening. I think it’s nice to be listened to and heard out. But if you are sharing the same opinion with someone over years and they are sharing theirs with you at a certain point, I dunno. Nothing is changing, you know?

    Listening can be just listening that’s it. But listening could also be really learning and broadening one’s thoughts and perspectives. I don’t know if there needs to be a change involved. But I will admit I stop sharing opinions on the same topic with people whose ideas have been fixed for years and after several conversations. And I usually tune them out at a certain point as well. I’m talking about six or seven years. I know their old stories as well as my own by then. Now if they say something new or there’s some unheard before nuance, I will listen attentively to that. But with some folks it’s almost verbatim and I do have some fatigue about it at times even if I like them a great deal. I’m sure people feel the same about me at times.

  5. 5

    I agree with Evan’s comment on the stereotype that introverts are good listeners. I am one of the most introverted people I have met. I do have a LOT to say about the injustices we introverts have to endure. But the fact that we don’t talk as much doesn’t mean that we are attentive the whole time they are talking. It’s a character issue not an extrovert/introvert issue. I think introverts =good listener is a bit of overcompensation.

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