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wake up

The Art of Listening

Sarah Brokaw

Do you want to feel more connected to others? Do you want to connect with your friends, loved ones—the outside world? Listen up. The ability to effectively listen is one our society has unfortunately forgotten to use—especially during moments when listening is most necessary.


It’s truly unfortunate, because we learn from each other through interpersonal experiences. When we hear each other, we can grow in ways we’d never have anticipated. What’s more, when we truly listen, we honor the other, and can deepen and improve any relationship.


While most of us think we’ve got listening mastered, how often do we find ourselves performing a task—even the tiniest task—like tying our shoelaces or focusing on other stimuli (usually a technological device) as someone speaks? Some may claim they do not distract themselves when listening is warranted, say, while in a business meeting, at a restaurant table with a friend, or even on the couch with a loved one. But c’mon: How many times have you or someone else you know surreptitiously checked your mobile device at these moments? You may not do it all the time but I’ll bet you’ve done it more than you would like to admit.


OK, everyone: Put the cell phone away!


There may be some who argue that listening and doing something else is possible, like walking while chewing gum. Yet, why then would research show that a person who attempts to multitask, (in this scenario, listen while doing something else), lowers her IQ 10 points?


Perhaps we humans have been able to get away with distracting ourselves as we feign to listen. But unfortunately, from what I have observed as a therapist, the inability to effectively listen has been a primary cause of conflict in people’s lives.


One of the best ways to learn to become a better listener is to repeat what someone says—exactly. If they say, “I ran into Bob today, and he was wearing the craziest hat,” you can say, “Oh? You ran into Bob and he was wearing a crazy hat?”


Yes, you may want to practice with someone you’re close to, so it doesn’t seem so obvious. But the idea is to literally hang on every word the other person is saying—so you can truly hear the words coming out of their mouth. Absorb them—without thinking of what you’d like to say next, or of course, surreptitiously checking your iPhone.


It may seem like a nursery-school exercise, but no matter how skilled we are at our professions, and the number of accomplishments we have made in our lives, we have become less skilled at listening. Whether some of us demonstrate a low aptitude in our listening skills in intimate relationships or in other settings that demand 100% of our attention, we all need to practice the art of listening—which may require disconnecting ourselves from other stimuli that usually involve, well, technology.


We’ll need to look others in the eye when they talk, and humbly realize that the skill to listen requires discipline that we may have once learned to foster when we were in nursery school, but somehow have lost as we’ve gotten older.


Let’s all take the opportunity to listen when being spoken to. We may not like what we hear, or we may find something else that may be more interesting. But I believe that we could all attest that most conflicts result from the absence of listening. When we truly show others respect and gift them with our full attention, we may just hear something that could change our lives.

Night Sky Night Sky