How come it is so difficult to listen?

January 19, 2015

Thomas D. Davidow, Ed.D.

It is my humble opinion that listening is probably the most important quality that any parent or authority figure in a position of leadership can possess. 

First, let me differentiate listening from hearing. Hearing may constitute comprehending the content of a message, but it does not constitute appreciating the messages that are frequently present beneath the content. Listening to another person sends the message of validation and support. The most interesting aspect of listening is that the person listening and the person talking do not have to agree.  Being listened to and understanding that you have a voice is frequently sufficient.

If listening is such a valuable tool for adults, how come so few of us are really good at it? We all suffer from the biggest hurdle to being a good listener, which is the ability to quiet/silence the noise that is going on inside our own heads while other people are talking to us. This is especially true when it comes to family members. It is even more challenging when family members talk to each other about business. All of us bring our histories with us into every conversation. The content or the topics we are listening to will frequently conjure up images, thoughts and experiences of our own issues or historical events. Those thoughts interfere with our ability to hear or understand fully what is being said by the other person.

One example of not quieting the "noise" is formulating your response to another person's statements before he or she finishes. Another example is when someone begins to discuss an issue, you assume this is in the general arena of topics that you have gone over a million times; and you do not have the patience to listen fully to determine if in fact your initial assumption is correct. Or you may have a number of issues that you are dealing with at the moment. Consequently, you respond quickly without  really understanding what the person is trying to convey.

When family members talk to each about anything of substance or about any relevant issue regarding the business, the ensuing dynamic only adds fuel to the above examples.  I am sure you can think of even more examples of times when it was difficult for you to concentrate, quiet the noise and listen with your full attention.

The first step is to make a commitment to listen. When someone comes to talk to you, regardless of how important you may think it is, remember that this is an issue that is important to them. Take it seriously. Be aware of whether your head is clear enough to be able to concentrate on the conversation. If it isn't, schedule a meeting for a better time.

I am sure that you have heard many people speak highly of individuals who listen. They will say about those individuals, "They made me feel that I was the most important person in the world.”