The Lost Art Of Listening


“We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.”
~Epictetus

Do you know the secret to a better marriage? Do you know the best way to connect with your children? Do you know what will make your friends know that you are there for them and you really care? What is this magic solution?

It’s listening! Listening is an essential part of communication that we often take for granted.

I’m often guilty of not listening. My head is somewhere else, thinking about my shopping list, what I forgot to do on my website, preschool…

Are the rest of us good listeners? Apparently not. At Mind Tools I read that “depending on the study being quoted, we remember between 25% and 50% of what we hear. That means that when you talk to your boss, colleagues, customers or spouse for 10 minutes, they pay attention to less than half of the conversation.” We are definitely heading in the wrong direction if this is true! Maybe listening is a skill that is a lost art.

In the above picture, you see the Chinese symbol, “Ting”, representing the verb “to listen”. There are 5 elements that make up the symbol. It breaks down like this:

• Ear – We need ears to listen.

• Eye – The non-listener looks elsewhere. The listener makes eye contact.

• Heart – Effective listening involves understanding the underlying emotions in the speaker.

• Undivided Attention – Active listeners focus their attention on the person that is speaking.

• King – True listening treats the other person as someone who is important.

So, how to do you start to actively listen?

1. First of all, give your full attention. Look at the person in the eyes.

2. Ask meaningful questions. I sometimes come up with some questions before I go places since I have trouble with small talk. For instance, I like to ask where someone grew up or how a couple met each other.

3. Don’t be somewhere else in your mind while you listen. It’s obvious when someone isn’t interested in what you’re saying. So don’t plan your shopping list or think of what you’re going to say next while someone is talking.

4. Don’t answer your cell phone, especially if you’re talking to your kids. I know sometimes you have to answer. But try to put it on silent ring. I see many mothers pick up their kids and stay on the phone as they walk to their car. This is an important time to hear about your child’s day.

5. Mirror the person’s body language.
Have you ever noticed that when you’re having a great conversation, you and the speaker unconsciously mirror each others body language? This behavior tells the speaker that you’re on the same page.

6. Use encouraging words.
Say words like “Go on” and “I agree” or “How interesting!”

7. Don’t interrupt!
I’m very guilty of this as I come from a family that all talks at the same time. (My mother calls this singing in harmony.) But active listening involves not putting words into others mouths or stopping them to put in your two cents.

And then there is being a good example for your children. They will do as you do and become active listeners if you model this good behavior.

“Listen or thy tongue will keep thee deaf… “
~ Native American Proverb

Active listening is a skill. It doesn’t come naturally for everyone. Active listening requires practice and thought. Active listening is engaging and will make the people in your life much happier.

What if the person you’re talking to doesn’t want to be an active listener for you? Then follow Winnie the Pooh’s advice:

“If the person you are talking to doesn’t appear to be listening, be patient. It may simply be that he has a small piece of fluff in his ear.”
~Winnie the Pooh (Milne)

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** Dog picture from Natural Horse Lovers and Picture credit and reference for meaning of symbol:
The 30 Inch View, Posted by Kent Hatcher.

This entry was posted in Changing Ourselves, Parenting, Positve Thought and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to The Lost Art Of Listening

  1. These are great tips for active listening, Betsy. That is a skill that I continue to work on as well. As parents, there is the tendency to want to give information rather than listening to your child. As you mentioned in your article, listening is the way have a deeper connection. Thank you for sharing the Chinese symbol, “Ting”, very interesting.

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  2. Suzie Cheel says:

    Great tips on listening love the quote We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.”
    ~Epictetus
    Listening is a skill I have increased especial over the last 30 years of living with an auditory person, as I am visualxx

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  3. christie says:

    Thank you for these gentle reminders, Betsy, I can totally relate to singing in harmony, i’m practicing hard to listen and pay attention to others without interrupting them.
    it’s hard and i need more patience especially with my 5 year old, i hope i get there some day.
    Meantime i’ll still keep trying.
    Best
    Christie.

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  4. Paige Burkes says:

    After tiring of repeating the same kind of argument with my husband years ago (don’t all couples do that?), I wanted to do something different instead of having my same reactions. I didn’t know what to do when the time came so I simply stopped talking and defending myself and actively listened to him so I could better understand his needs. Wow! Was that a game-changer! I’ve mindfully ensured that I’m listening to others as often as possible, and it’s made a big difference.

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  5. We need tips like these more now than ever considering how many more distractions there are in modern life to pull us away for fully listening. That statistic on how much we hear when we listen is mind blowing. I want to improve my communication skills this year, and listening is a big part of that.

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  6. Elle Sommer says:

    I’ve been working on the ‘don’t interrupt’ for quite a while now. I get so enthused about what someone is saying. Not a great trait!

    However I have learned when I’m online and someone talks to me…to stop what I’m doing and turn away so I can focus on them and hear more of what they are saying to me.

    Love your tips for more active listening Betsy.

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  7. I am guilty of many of the “bad listener” habits. When I had the brain injury, all of the “good listening” habits went away. Being terribly aware of this, I do try to consciously listen – sometimes better than others. 🙂 Thanks for the reminders.

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