The Forgotten Art of Communication

2012 January 23

In a culture that values being noticed, speaking is king.  Leaders speak. Greatness is said to be achieved through words.  Minds are changed and great feats are accomplished by the voice standing out and above the crowd. Speaking gets you noticed. It makes you noticed and gets you attention. Who in their right mind puts listening as a bullet point on their resume?

Listening, on the other hand, is the forgotten art of communication. Listening is said to be reserved for those who seemingly don’t have anything to say. Listening is thought to be left to those whom have no great ideas to share. No minds to persuade. No great feats to accomplish.

Here are 5 reasons why listening is more important and vital to care and caregivers than speaking:

(1)  The moment we open our mouths to speak, we often close off our ability to observe and appreciate our surroundings and the people around us. Do you have something to say? Something to get off your chest that’s been bothering you for days? Some argument that’s been on your mind lately?  Open your mouth and all else around you disappears into oblivion. Speaking transcends the person you are talking with and is the ultimate form of abstraction.  Speaking changes situations, it doesn’t seek to understand the people or circumstances in those situations.

(2)  Listening is the anti-abstraction. Listening has no past and no future. It can’t be used as a weapon to unload on another. It doesn’t allow us to purge ourselves of frustrations and angst that we’ve been holding on to.  We can’t prepare for how we are going to listen.  Listening always takes place in the company of others. It is the ultimate human act of now because you can’t listen unless you are in the company of a body, a voice, a presence. Listening is the ultimate act of presence and it fastens you to the moment and opens you up to all that is before you.

(3)  Speaking separates us from others because we only open our mouths to say something when we want to correct or alter the world and the people around us. Speaking pushes others away from us.  Speaking creates I-you distinctions—“I’m saying something . . . you pay attention to me.”  When done right, speaking silences the other. “I win, you lose.” “My argument is better than yours.” “I totally shut him up with my thesis.” Statements and propositions attack and poke others into defensive postures of pro/con retreat, creating an antagonistic relationship that far too often is about outmaneuvering the other person.

(4)  Listening draws others closer to us. Listening allows us to be nearer to one another, both physically and psychologically. Listening is an act of kindness, of openness.  Even thousands of miles away, on a phone call, listening can make us feel like we are next to one another. Understanding is the natural offspring of listening because it allows us to remember that we are not alone, that another shares in our current experience. When we listen, we can’t help but find ourselves turning our attention, our hearts and our presence toward another where the I and you mysteriously transform into a we.

(5)  Speaking is a public spectacle to be seen and heard as far as our voice will project. Listening isn’t showy. It’s subtle. It doesn’t draw an audience like speaking does. No one will gather to hear you listen. There is nothing to be seen. No standing ovations. No curtain calls. Listening requires no amplification because the act itself draws those to whom we listen nearer to us. When we listen to another, others open themselves up to us and willingly join us.

You will undoubtedly get noticed when you speak.  However, you will be remembered when you listen. Listening, the kind of listening that is sincere and genuine, isn’t simply done with one’s ears.  Listening is a fully body experience that notices absence as well as presence.  It is the ultimate act of faith, requiring nothing of the person before you. If you care for another, listening won’t get you noticed, but it will ensure that all else will be forgotten in the midst of what happens between you and your loved one.

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