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The Art of Listening

Which shouldn’t even be given an entire jawonthefloor blog post, but apparently it does.

I’ve been told I am a good listener. People often say to me, “Oh my word, how do you know that?!” when I bring up something they had previously mentioned and I’ll tell them that we spoke about it a few months earlier.  This always brings blank stares of shock and “but how do you remember?” Well, because I was listening.

I’ve recently had the opportunity to be in a few conversations in which I noticed zero listening. Let me go back and tell you, Floor Jawers that I wasn’t always as attentive as I strive to be. I used to be the discreet version of what I witnessed. People were literally shouting at each other, no single person being allowed to finish their points and a lot of wisdom being lost at the wayside because, why bother when you’re not being heard?

I used to do this in my mind. I would nod, smile when necessary and do the appropriate “ooh”, “aah” and “uh huh” at correctly timed interjections. However, I would be jumping in, interrupting their lines of thought and bringing my own point across, but without actually saying it.

Now I don’t know which is worse: what I used to do (in my mind), or the louder version where you just shut someone down as they are speaking. Either way, to me it amounts to that person saying “what you have to say is not as important as what I need to right now, despite you speaking to me, so shut up and listen to me instead”.

Listening really is an art. You have to step back, zip your lips and put aside what you have to say. Even if just for a minute, some people find this too hard and find that they have to interrupt. One of the greatest compliments I’ve ever received was when I was told by various people in a de-briefing session for a youth facilitation and mentoring programme, was that they had never experienced someone who would be as fully engaged as I was. Now it took all my willpower to not let that rush up to my head, but it really felt good. Something that I had been doing for a large part of my life was now being commended, and I became aware of something important. When you allow someone to fully express what is in their heart, you allow them into yours. Deep, I know, but it’s true.

The danger with this is that people tend to monopolise a conversation and walk over you, because they had never experienced someone listening to them before. This is not for you to navigate. People soon realise that they are being too selfish (because a little is necessary), and that leads to a shift in thinking.

So how do you do it? Let your mind go blank and don’t think of a question or response until the person has finished their thought. Don’t judge! Hard, I know, but you must try (I fail often at this, but trying is all that counts) and then just try to be fully engaged in their presence. Try it; it does take a certain amount of strength to get through a fair bit of ignorance. But when you spit your uninformed opinion back at someone, it’s just ignorant volleyball, without a winner.

While you’re at it, look out for the way in which people tend to not listen. Besides the obvious interrupting, and shouting in response, body language is a fabulous indicator of ignorance. I love seeing people shifting in their seats as someone speaks, raised eyebrows in anger, averting of the eyes and agitated facial movements. It’s all rather hilarious and quite interesting when you ask someone who does that “what did I just say?” The answer is entertaining, but hardly ever surprising.

You hear?!


<p>Author <a href=”https://plus.google.com/102128103971030481396” target=”blank” rel=”author”>Jerome Cornelius</a></p>

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