The art of listening


Ryan Houston-Dial

Today, communication has many more facets than most could have imagined in the past. Due to technological innovations, individuals now possess smartphones that have convenient functions such as a calendar, alarm and fitness trackers, as well as electronic personal assistants that can complete a multitude of tasks with a couple of voice commands.

Although we’ve made many advances in electronic communication, we have declined in the area of interpersonal communication. Essentially, we have lost the art of listening to one another. Rather than comprehending and actively listening to someone’s thoughts before speaking, we are now just waiting to respond with thoughts of our own. This has led to the fall of many relationships, friendships and members in society.

With the rise of politics in social media and increasing polarization, individuals now become hostile when met with an idea that does not match their own. On several accounts, I am willing to admit that I have been quick to respond without considering the comments that were said before me. Anger flowed through my body and caused a sequence of narrow-minded comments to exit my mouth. The only thought on my mind was to prove my point and make sure it was proven without much resistance from the other party. On the other side, not being heard is a tough task and not much fun either. I remember feeling both disappointed and saddened that someone else was shutting me out and failing to consider how I felt about the situation. Rather than feeling shunned, I wish I was understood. I wish they took my point of view into consideration and that I had received the validation that my opinion did in fact matter to them.

After being on both ends of wanting to be heard and refusing to listen, I chose to take a new approach when communicating. When being spoken to, I started giving people my undivided attention, with an emphasis on eye contact. It is important to make others feel comfortable and show them we value their opinions by being attentive.

Additionally, I maintain a clear mind as someone talks, resisting the urge to form any biases or snap judgments about their ideas. No matter how I feel about someone’s ideas, I remember to remain open-minded because I have the opportunity to learn something new. I remind myself to hold my tongue and refrain from interrupting as that can make people feel disrespected. I can assure you that nobody enjoys being cut off so I implore you to let them finish their thoughts.

I also ask questions about their reasoning to show I am engaged, consider their thoughts and calmly begin to introduce my own ideas to the discussion. I take into account the possibility of not seeing eye to eye, but you do not always have to “win” the argument: A great solution is agreeing to disagree and moving forward. There is still value in the power of dialogue between two opposing parties. Dialogue allows the free flow of ideas with the possibility to create something new. We develop and maintain trust in our relationships through the influences of dialogue that we share with each other. It serves as a point of language, culture and thoughts that connect us.

Yes, emotions in the moment can be overwhelming, however, ask yourself if aggressively pushing your agenda on someone is worth losing their presence and respect. It is imperative that we at least attempt to actively listen even if the other side is choosing not to. In reality, we all need each other in some form or fashion. Many of us may be hesitant to admit it, but we all serve a purpose. If you would like to be heard, please listen first.