Thursday, October 28, 2010

Listening to Myself

In today's mail, the November issue of 'Liguorian' magazine arrived with an article on listening that I wrote 18 months ago. It's called "Listen, Pray, Love."

As I read the printed version, with its new title and fancy design, I had the strange sensation of being someone else, as if the words and ideas I created last year were the work of another self. Maybe this was the result of the considerable editing that the article underwent: whole paragraphs were cut; others were moved. The result is better, tighter, over all. But seeing this new version came as a surprise.

We grow fond of our own carefully wrought drafts and forget that every piece of writing can be improved (mainly by reducing wordiness).

The other, more important point I discovered on seeing my article in print was to reflect on the main point: the lack of good listening I continue to observe in so many quarters. It's not that people who talk a lot but rarely stop to listen are entirely egocentric; it's just that their tension, and their habits, don't let them stop long enough in the rush of ideas and words so that they can pay attention to the person they're talking to.

It takes rare traits--patience and skill in listening--to give another person good attention. Most of us are in a terrible hurry; God, Kazantzakis wrote, is never in a hurry. Life unfolds as it must and can't be rushed.

But we, in our impatient rushing, upset this basic rhythm of life. The result is not mere miscommunication or frustration but a failure of love, of the communion between two individuals that comes only out of patient attention.


Ned Kessler said...

This is very interesting. It stimulated a few thoughts that you probably know already, but here goes.

Stephen R. Covey, in his "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People" material, says that one of the strongest human needs is to be listened to. He means to be deeply listened to, to be listened to for understanding. That belief is the basis for his Habit 5: Seek first to understand, then to be understood."
I believe that one of the most precious gifts we can give someone is to deeply listen to him or her when they have the need. This is usually when they are acting or speaking in an emotional rather than logical manner.

In active, or empathic listening, you listen for the emotion behind the words and mirror that back in your response. Eventually, the theory goes, the person will return to speaking rationally, and you will have helped them see more clearly exactly what they do feel or want to say.

I used to do a role-play exercise on this technique when I was a Covey facilitator helping to teach Habit 5 to colleagues at work, many years ago.

In writing as well, I feel this deep need to be understood is the reason that a word, paragraph, or scene, touches a reader deeply. We read something that brings us to tears, let’s say. It makes us feel (maybe not consciously think) that someone else in the world feels exactly like us, or understands us.

Ned Kessler said...

I should have also said that we have a bishop who is a listener. For this alone, we should rejoice, but there are other reasons for that also. I didn't realize this until later, but from the moment he walked into the sacristy last Sunday and I introduced myself to him and we started talking, I felt as comfortable as though I had known him for years.

There is cause for rejoicing here!