The Power of Listening

Posted on: Tue, 11/03/2020 - 12:00

“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”

Stephen Covey

I sometimes feel like the whole world is shouting right now. Even email messages with bold fonts and all capital letters are shouting. Everyone wants to be heard. It seems that everyone is angry.

Perhaps this anger and shouting are due to the pandemic. The uncertainty and stress from the pandemic definitely contribute to anger. Perhaps this anger and shouting are due to the polarization that grips our country. Perhaps this anger and shouting are due to fear—fear that our country will never have the courage to truly come to grips with systemic racism or fear of what would happen if we do.

Fear and anger erode trust. Fear and anger destroy relationships. Fear and anger diminish confidence. Fear and anger hurt. Fear and anger lead to shouting instead of listening.

The challenges we face as a nation and a community are complex, but historically our nation and community have faced many complex challenges. Democracy is messy, hard work rooted in ideals and principles on which most people can agree. It is harder to agree on how to achieve those ideals.

That brings me back to the importance of listening with an intent to understand. Understanding does not mean that I must agree with the point of view being expressed. However, listening to understand enables me to hear a different perspective—to see another piece of the big picture. Listening to understand lets people know that I value them and their stories. Listening to understand is how learning occurs. Listening to understand is how we grow as individuals. Listening to understand is the first step in finding truth. Listening to understand is how we begin to tackle complex problems.

“We think we listen, but very rarely do we listen with real understanding, true empathy. Yet listening, of this very special kind, is one of the most potent forces for change that I know.” Carl Rogers

If we want to create change for the better in our nation and our community, then we need to stop shouting and start listening.