Listening: A Critical Skill to Understanding

Dawn Edwardson, MDST 485, Post #3, Type #3

In his article, The Power of Listening , Jonathan H. Westover shares of a powerful experience he had when one of his college professors actually “heard him out” by simply practicing excellent active listening skills. His article had me interested from the very start as he started it off with a great quote…“No one is as deaf as the man who will not listen.” – Jewish Proverb. This is a powerful quote and one that I will add to my desk at work and home refrigerator. It is simple yet profound and every day I will see it and be inspired at the power of truly listening to others.

Westover shares of a specific example of a time in his college life when he was struggling to make a key decision regarding his classes and possibly changing his major. He sought out a trusted professor and shared with him all of his “scattered, naïve, and probably incoherent thoughts” and the professor intently listened and only spoke when seeking clarification on certain keyaspects. Westover walked away from that conversation feeling significantly more clear about his next steps and he also felt heard, understood, and validated. He was able to actually sort out his own thoughts and confusion simply because the professor cared enough to simply listen.

I think this makes good sense. Through truly listening to others we can convey to them that they are important to us and that what they have to share matters. I know that I have experienced an ability to move through very challenging situations just by being able to share my thoughts with someone close to me who had the time to actually listen. Taking about complex matters out loud with another can really help a person to gain clarity and perspective.

Westover digs a little deeper into the topic of listening and his experience with his professor. He shares about active listening as a skill and he cites Elle Kaplan’s definition of active listening, “giving your complete, intentional focus to what someone says, rather than what their words literally mean.”  I can resonate with this and it makes good sense. Active listening is about listening to what someone is telling you and understanding the context of what they are saying not the literal words they are saying. It’s also about paying attention to their body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice. These are all part of the message or information they are trying to share with us. Listening requires us a to be “all in”, no distractions.

The overarching purpose of Westover’s article is from a business perspective; to be an effective and better leader. It was surprising to me that he didn’t specifically discuss that true listening requires us to make time and to clear our minds. It’s very challenging in the workplace to stop in the middle of what you’re doing to truly to listen to another colleague. Maybe if you’re an incredibly skilled/seasoned listener you can but I find that very challenging. It’s certainly important to do your best in a real-time situation, however, for matters that require true active listening, I like to ensure I can do that with a clear mind and no distractions thus I actually plan time for it.  

I think and feel that I am a pretty good listener, however, when I am overwhelmed by all the things that need to get done, such as the daily obligations of work, school, family, and friends..well, my ability to listen in a meaningful way can easily go right out the window. During periods of high stress, I have too much mental interference to actively listen unless I am very intentional about it and actually plan time with someone to talk. By planning time, I can ensure that I have cleared my mind and can be wholly present in my listening. Additionally, I think the hardest part of active listening is just that, actively listening. If we all took a moment, during our next conversation, and paid attention to how many times we interrupt or stop listening because we already know what they’re going to say or we have a response, we’d be very surprised at our inability to truly listen.

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