We all long to be listened to and understood. Listening requires a quiet mind and a quiet heart. Listening well is at the heart of having fulfilling conversations and rich, rewarding relationships. When we think about conversation, we usually think about two people talking to each other, but the less emphasized part of conversation is the importance of gracious, attentive, empathic listening. In our world of endless stimulation and constant multi-tasking, we have all but lost the central skill needed for good listening—the ability to focus our attention on only one thing—the person who is speaking.

We all struggle with internal barriers to listening well to others. The biggest barriers to listening well are usually the emotions stimulated as we listen to the person who is speaking, our assumptions about what the person is trying to communicate, and our urge to form our response while the other person is still speaking, rather than listen completely. By listening completely and withholding our own needs and reactions in that moment, we are communicating our respect, caring, and the importance of the person to whom we are listening.

Some people are eager listeners. They prefer to listen to others rather than to talk. Talking can put us in a position of vulnerability or fear of judgment. Listening is a safer act. Listening is also an invitation for the person who is expressing herself to share her joys, sorrows, worries, and fears. In the process of being listened to and understood, loving bonds form between people and a great deal of healing can occur. The process is both simple and mysterious, obvious and subtle.

We can all become better listeners and we can all experience the joy and validation of being listened to. Listening is a skill and the better we listen, the more rewarding and meaningful our relationships become. Let’s talk about the role of listening in our lives.

1) How do you experience yourself as a listener? In what relationships are you able to focus and be fully present and in what situations do you tend to find it more difficult to focus?
2) Who do you feel listens to you most fully? With whom do you have the most frustration?
3) Do you notice your emotional reactions, assumptions about the other person, or trying to formulate your response sometimes interfering with hearing your conversational companion? What else gets in the way?
4) When someone really listens to you, what does their full attentiveness do for you? How does the experience of being listened to help you?
5) Share one or more experiences in your life that revolve around listening: a time someone really listened to you well, a time where you felt not at all listened to, or times you listened well or failed to listen and the consequences of those experiences.