Wednesday, March 19, 2014

To say "just listen" is bad manners

To hear is one thing, to listen another. To hear is to understand the words, to listen is to understand the feeling behind the words.

To listen to someone is to be silent inside, and to not construct a story, or an ongoing commentary track. To first understand what is sought to be communicated, and then to understand where it comes from, and then, to respond.

It is important and part of politesse to not interrupt when someone is in the middle of a monologue. But an inward interruption - an imputation of motive, a disagreement before the monologue is finished, a revulsion born of labeling - though not rude, is as disastrous for understanding as an overt intrusion.

To listen requires passivity as well as effort. Passivity in that no imaginary narrative should form in the listener's mind. Effort in that one needs to be alert, watchful of the body, the expressions, the tonality, the vibes. To fully listen can therefore be exhausting.

To listen is obviously useful, when the other person wants to lighten their heart and talk about something that is bothering them. It is important to let the speaker continue without interruption and to let them complete. Especially if the conversation is about one's relationship with the speaker!

Sometimes, to make someone listen is to share one's pain. Just the fact that now another human being knows and understands what is going on inside oneself is a relief.

Mostly however, to make someone listen is to seek validation for one's feelings or one's point of view. It is to feel good about oneself or to rationalize an act or a plan that is irking oneself.

It is unfair, but all too common, for the speaker to ask for agreement in the middle of their monologue: "Do you agree?" or "Am I right?" Till now only to listen attentively was involved, now even agreement is being asked for. The only correct response to this is: "I am trying to understand your point of view." If the speaker persists with "But do you agree with me?, " then just as one considers some people as bad listeners, one must conclude that the speaker is a bad speaker. One can continue to emphasize agnosticism, till the speaker leaves infuriated or till they understand that agreement doesn't come cheap.

More often than not, an injunction or request to "just listen" is to take the other person's time, and feel good after having vented. It is a veiled way of saying: "You listen to me, but I don't want to listen to your comments or evaluation or judgment or suggestions about what I am talking about."

A communication is an interaction. If you are subjecting someone to "just listen" to your monologue full of problems, then you are also thereby obligated to "just listen" to their response to you. To ask the other to "just listen" and then to refuse to listen when it is one's turn is to take something of value and to give nothing in return.

When one expects the other to spend some effort to understand oneself or a problem, it behooves one to also then spend some effort at listening to their advice to fix the problem. And ideally, if the advice makes sense, to sincerely put it in effect. If you expect the other to be a good listener, then after they have listened, be a good listener yourself.

To say "just listen" is bad manners.

1 comment:

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