We move so quickly and multi-task so much, we often overlook the importance of listening. It is a quickly diminishing art whose importance underlies all aspects of our lives. In particular, our ability to connect with our loved ones, friends and customers and hear their concerns, interests and desires.
Many of us were taught that if we speak clearly and carefully enough then others will understand what we mean. Therefore meaning is generated through speaking. And, if we are good at listening, we can repeat the words that are spoken to us and the speaker will know that we have understood them.
The challenge lies in thinking that parroting back the words equals understanding the meaning behind the words.
Meaning is generated through listening – the physical act of hearing the sound a voice makes plus our history, our state of being and interpretation.
The auditory aspect of listening is a factor of physiology. A sound is made and we hear it with a degree of clarity and sensitivity that is determined by our physiological structure.
As living beings, we are shaped both by our personal and collective histories – the events of our lives, the beliefs of our parents, the culture and geographic location in which we were raised, schools we attended, etc. This history creates a filter through which we interpret our experiences.
Interpretation, and therefore listening, is directly impacted by our physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual states of being at any given moment. If we have imbalance in any one state – lack of sleep, poor nutrition, for example – our interpretations are deeply impacted, typically in a limited way.
To build competency in listening, we need to step outside of our history to interpret a speaker’s words in the most objective and open way possible. To achieve this, we have to optimize self-care.
Lastly, we must communicate with the speaker to ‘check out’ our listening or interpretation. Are we interpreting in the way that they are intending us to interpret? Have we really understood their concerns, ideas, and desires? Once we have aligned around our mutuality of interpretation, then we can know that we have truly ‘heard’ the speaker.