Communication plays a tremendous role in our lives, no matter from which angle you observe it. Our days are filled with conscious and unconscious communication, verbal and non-verbal.
We currently find ourselves in an era where there is a substantial amount of information being broadcasted via media, the internet, and social media, with people appearing to pay more attention to expressing opinions rather than forming them. It is essential, especially now, not to lose sight of the value of listening.
However, listening always begins with a choice. The choice to want to understand the other person as well as possible. Even if you have no idea what the other person will tell you, whether you agree with it, or how it will affect you. Trying to understand someone isn’t about stepping into their shoes or crawling into their skin. That is impossible. Only they truly know their own experience. They are the ones who have worn these shoes for a lifetime. They are the only ones who fit in this skin. Even if you recognize elements of their experience, you cannot honestly know what it is like to be them. What you can do, however, is set aside everything that represents your own shoes – your own narrative, your own associations – as much as possible. Then, with all your capacity for wonder and curiosity, you can strive to get as close as possible to the other person’s perspective and experience. This involves taking off your shoes in your mind and temporarily ignoring your own story, your own comparisons and associations, and your own need to be heard. This is the choice to listen.
Listening requires a lot. It necessitates awareness, skills, and plenty of practice! Listening is like training muscles to stay in “shape.”
The process of listening is an intensely active, energy-consuming endeavor. When the brain actively processes what it hears, it uses much energy. After genuinely listening for a while, say an hour or more, you will likely have at least two experiences.
Firstly, you will probably experience an emotional response due to all the information – be it positive or negative – that you have received.
Secondly, you’ll likely feel physically drained. You will be tired and may want a drink. You’ll want to give your mind some rest. If you don’t experience this sense of fatigue after a conversation where you were listening, or after someone’s presentation, then you probably weren’t listening as well as you thought you were. It thus becomes clear: always listening well is impossible.