Once, I made two lists. On the first list, I put the names of the people in my life that I had largely positive feelings about. On the second, I put the names of the people that I had reservations about, the relationships that I might label problematic. We called each other friends, but after I’d been with them, I didn’t feel enriched.
When I looked at the difference between the two lists, one thing stood out. The people on the first list were good listeners, and the people on the second were not. The people on the first list always made me feel like a connection had been made between us, but the people on the second made me feel like a connection had been faked. The people on the first list made me feel like I was accompanied on this journey of life, the people on the second made me feel like I was alone.
That’s when I realized how important it is to be a good listener to other people. It’s not just a nice thing to do, or good manners. Good listening has an existential importance. It’s the only thing that helps us relieve the loneliness of the human condition.
For something that is so important, it’s amazing how little it’s talked about. It’s rarely taught in our families, schools, workplaces or churches. There isn’t even a cultural cliche about good listening, like: A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.
Most people who have become good listeners learned it in some kind of self-help or psychological setting, and they were usually surprised to learn its importance. It hasn’t spread to the overall culture.
It’s not even a skill of certain personality types. Some people may appear to be good listeners because their type makes them less talkative or less opinionated or more sensitive to others, but they will admit that if you listen in on their thoughts, they are often not fully tuned into the other person. To be genuinely paying attention to another person that is a learned skill, and one that takes constant practice. It’s not something we’re born with.
This is the first in a series. In the following blog updates, we asked people of all the types, Who are the best and worst listeners in your life, and why? From that we gleaned some good, practical dos and don’ts on listening. In the next blog update, we’re going to look at how our type influences our listening.
You’ll probably find a lot of the people you know in these pages, including the person you thought you knew the best yourself. However, if you decide to begin asking yourself the question: Am I really listening? you’ll find that you didn’t really know yourself, or anyone else, before that.
(By Susan Scanlon, The TYPE Reporter, Issue Number 97)