Listening, how well do you do it? Is it a lost art? Even the Greek philosopher Epictetus noted “ We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak”. He clearly thought it a skill needing development even then. What would he think now?
It is hard in these days of global transition not to be caught up in conversations everywhere of what is coming next and what to do. Speculation, theories and judgement of others and “the situation” abounds. It is easy to become agitated, frustrated and yes, frightened. We seek out our people, the ones who think like us and share our opinions and together we share our worst fears, our what ifs.
The best lessons come from the views challenging our perspective
This happens in times of personal transition too. We get caught up in worst case thinking and gather our friends and their supporting views. By doing so, we miss the chance to listen and take in another perspective of possible choices. Even worse, we may approach a conversation with distrust and suspicion instead. We are ready to react, losing a chance to broaden our knowledge. Our ears close and our mouth is ready.
Want to create an adversary quickly? Decide what they believe before you ask them. Choose to believe the worst of them and that is likely what you will find. Few of us rise to the occasion when met with suspicion and distrust.
I’m pretty certain that the best lessons in life are the ones that challenge our views of what we think the world is, or what we think we know of those different than us. Politics for instance, is a personal and strongly charged area of our lives. We usually listen to those speeches, read those articles or watch those newscasts that support what we think. We don’t much want to listen to the opposing side. Their way of speaking, their views of how the world is, especially when at odds with ours effectively shuts down our listening.
Active listening is the art of getting out of your head and truly hearing what the person speaking is saying. It requires concentration and the goal of understanding. It is not a chance to think of a rebuttal or reaction, but instead to hear all that is said and then form a response.
Politically speaking I am left of centre, but I have friends who are right of centre. How and why? It is possible because I understand they have different lived experiences. It doesn’t make them any less concerned of their fellow-man or of the world in which they live. Just as my views don’t make me more so. Listening well, means taking ego out of the conversational loop and consciously choosing to look for the points and perspective you don’t hold right now.
Being in transition, personal or otherwise is a very trying time. There are so many emotions, often many decisions and a lot of uncertainty about the right course of action. It is helpful to get like-minded people on side to help you make sense of all the information coming your way. It is equally helpful to find a few people who are not so quick to take your side. As long as there is mutual respect you might find the alternative viewpoints helpful. In fact, listening to their counsel might prevent you from missing solutions you hadn’t thought of.
In transition, or trying to navigate the current world transitions? Keep in mind your ears await their chance and your mouth could use a rest.