“We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak”
Those words are attributed to Epictetus, a Greek philosopher, over 2,000 years ago – long before all of the distractions we have today that prevent us from really connecting with one another. In the age of technology, communication is becoming faster and more convenient every day, yet we’re truly communicating with each other less and less. We see tough conversations being done over text messages, and email has replaced most verbal conversations. Whole generations have grown up learning that the best way to communicate any message is through technology. You need only visit a local restaurant to find a family or other group of people at a table together looking down at their smartphones rather than talking to each other.
So, what does it mean to be a ‘good listener’ and really hear someone? It is quickly becoming a lost art and, in my experience, a soft skill lacking in many professionals today. Listening, really listening to someone, is much more than taking in the sounds. It means being patient, being receptive and open-minded, being fully present in the moment and, most of all, being empathetic. It also means allowing our busy minds to slow down and be quiet enough to put another person front and center – which means not running through your shopping list, thinking about your response or interrupting to finish the other person’s sentences.
Listening also goes beyond our ears and includes all of the non-verbal cues that people give us during any conversation. This is an area that we lose much of when we rely primarily on technology. Some make this even worse by adding their own interpretation of ‘tone’ and intent to an email or text. If you’ve ever read an email and could practically ‘hear’ the person in your head, tone and all, then you know what I mean.
All of this adds up to many of us being caught up in a flash flood of communication, while feeling less heard and understood. Over time this leads to us feeling more disconnected and lonelier than ever.
As you go through your day today, pay attention to your interactions and see how you’d score yourself as a good listener. Also, see who is really listening to you and who isn’t. You may be surprised at just how little real listening is happening in your world.