How to Listen Better: Experts, Opinions, and Quotes

Below is advice from two contemporary books that tout learning how to listen better, plus info about the use of active listening and some humorous quotes.

I. You’re Not Listening: What You’re Missing and Why It Matters (2020) by Kate Murphy

One major reason we should listen to each other is that it connects us more closely with others, a phenomenon sorely lacking in society these days.

So, then, how do we learn to listen better? It is, after all, an acquired skill. Kirkus Reviews:

During a conversation, ‘you make yourself aware of and acknowledge distractions, then return to focus…She points out that one of the primary obstacles to listening is the assumption that we know what someone is going to say, which means, unfortunately, that we’re least likely to pay attention to the people closest to us, including spouses, children, and friends.

From an interview with the author on her Amazon page, here’s some helpful advice about curbing this tendency toward half-hearted listening:

A better response will come to you when you have taken in all that the other person has to say. Then, pause if you need to after the other person concludes to think about what you want to say. And if you’re still at a loss, it’s okay to say, ‘I don’t know what to say.’ You can also say, ‘I’d like to think about that,’ which conveys that you’re honoring what the other person said by taking time to think about it, while, at the same time, honoring that part of you that is uncertain or anxious and needs time to process. Better that, than responding in a way that is insensitive or misses the point.

II. Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living (2016) by Krista Tippett

One key way to get wisdom? As stated to Paul Brandeis Raushenbush, Huffington Post: “Start with the attention you give to the words you speak…A corollary is (that) we become wise by asking better questions and being listeners, as well as speakers. As I say, generous listening is not about being quiet, it’s about being present. So there’s something about wisdom that knows the power of words and also knows the power of presence and of knowing when to speak is not the right thing.”

III. Active Listening

Neuroscientist Robert K. Cooper, co-author of Executive E.Q.“Many ‘active listening’ seminars are, in actuality, little more than a shallow theatrical exercise in appearing like you’re paying attention to another person. The requirements: Lean forward, make eye contact, nod, grunt, or murmur to demonstrate you’re awake and paying attention, and paraphrase something back every 30 seconds or so. As one executive I know wryly observed, many inhabitants of the local zoo could be trained to go through these motions, minus the paraphrasing.”

John Gottman, a marriage researcher, similarly pooh-poohs active listening. Although he once thought it worked, he eventually concluded his clients weren’t really helped by it.

In an interview with Randall C. Wyatt on psychotherapy.net, Gottman explained that the concept works better in therapeutic dialogue than in real-life dialogue. The difference? In therapy “…the client is paying, the therapist isn’t paying. Usually the client is complaining about somebody else, so it’s very easy for the therapist to say: ‘Oh, that’s terrible what you have to put up with, your mother is awful, or your husband, or whatever it is. I really understand how you feel.'”

IV . Humorous Quotes About Listening 

Fran Lebowitz, humorist: “The opposite of talking isn’t listening. The opposite of talking is waiting.”

Mark Twain, writer: “Most conversations are monologues in the presence of witnesses.”

Robert McCloskey, author: “I know that you believe you understand what you think I said, but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.”

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