Joe is walking down a darkened alley, when suddenly a man jumps out, brandishing a pistol.
“Don’t shoot,” Joe pleads, “I’ll give you all my money.”
“I don’t want your money,” says the man with the gun. “My whole life I’ve been trying to get someone to sit down and talk with me. Now I’m going to make you listen for one hour.”
The story brings into focus, a little goofily perhaps, the value of listening.
Listening is an intrinsic part of any conversation. A good meaningful conversation requires two partners to speak and listen, with a tender heart and an open mind. Relationships built around good conversations stand strong on a bulwark of trust and love.
To place things into perspective, picture these scenarios –
- It is 4 pm. A man is browsing the web. His wife is standing close, with beads of perspiration on her forehead and anxiety writ large on her face. She is telling him the menu planned for the guests, due in the evening. Without even looking up, he mumbles his approval. His wife quickly walks away, wiping her brow.
- <…> She tells him the menu planned <…>. He turns around, looks her in the eye, and listens giving her his undivided attention. As she speaks, he observes her disheveled hair, notes her rushed tone of expression, her swishing hands cutting the air – undoubtedly a result of stress building up. He politely inquires, clarifies to understand her activities for the evening. He suggests a few changes – some quick-to-cook delightful starters to replace their equally delightful but tedious-to-make counterparts. He also volunteers to help in the kitchen. She walks away, a zest obvious in her stride.
We would like to picture ourselves in # 2 but do we practice it all the time? What does it take to emulate # 2 and trash mindless # 1?
An analysis would be revealing.
Why #1 fails
- The man seems all ego, does not engage with or show concern for his wife or the situation she’s stuck in.
- He does not acknowledge his partner’s presence, listens passively, and responds in a dismissive manner.
- The wife feels no different before and after the conversation. It is as if the interaction never happened.
Why #2 succeeds
- The man is non-judgemental and silently listens with rapt attention.
- He does not interrupt her with advice or opinions, keeping control over his biases.
- His listening is nothing less than an act of love and compassion. It binds and connects with his wife and her emotions.
- He goes beyond the obvious (i.e. verbals), keen to understand more.
- He asks questions and clarifies to improve his understanding.
- The conversation is successful since the man engages and solves her wife’s problems to an extent. His wife is relieved and happier to have confided to her caring partner.
To summarise, when we listen in silence, we bequeath a part of ourselves to the other. We give up judging, evaluating, responding, and retorting. The other person feels heard and valued. The conversations acquire greater meaning, reaching deep from where empathy rises. The outcomes become purposeful and successful.
We know more when we focus on non-verbals like the tone, body language, expressions, and emotive content of the speaker. Our responses even if disruptive become more balanced, and attuned closer to our partner’s space.
It makes sense to actively listen, don’t you think.