Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Are you listening?

Are you listening carefully?  Are  you concentrating . . . hanging on my every word . . . giving your mind wholly to what I'm saying?

If you are, I can guarantee that you'll be rewarded.  My output, my very thoughts, will be refined and enriched by your attention . . . we'll both benefit.

No, I'm not joking.  I mean that quite seriously.  As any actor will tell you, his or her performance is heightened in direct relation to the involvement of the audience.

Listening isn't a passive activity, listening is an art.  Listening demands a great deal of the listener.  It asks for an open, receptive mind, a steady level of concentration and, above all else, a willing involvement with what the speaker is saying.

A listener is a vital component in what is, in effect, a double-act with the speaker.  What's more, when the listeners are multiplied to form a group or audience, the power of their participation is magnified accordingly.

But we mustn't overlook the skilful tricks of a bad listener, tricks to which I frequently plead guilty.  One of these is to appear interested when, in reality, you are barely hearing what the person is saying.  You are convinced that there's no need to listen, that you know exactly what's being said . . . and you don't agree with it anyway.  What you are waiting for, waiting with a barely concealed impatience, is that moment when a downward inflection indicates that the speaker is going to pause and provide you with the opportunity to interrupt.  You are ready and poised, your arguments are lined up.
"I know exactly what you mean," you burst out untruthfully, "but . . . ".

There is, of course, that other form of bad listener who doesn't even pretend to be listening.
Have you ever tried to make a point to someone whose mind was wandering, and whose attention rarely if ever centred on what you were saying?  If so, you know exactly what I mean . . . it's like trying to shine a light through a thick fog, or struggling to make progress through a sea of treacle.  Your words are bouncing back to you, unaccepted and ignored.  Your voice eventually dies away and you abandon the effort.

What a difference, though, when you are talking to someone who is interested and receptive.  You can feel your thoughts refine in response to the attention.  The precise words come just when you need them, you develop a eloquence you didn't know you possessed.  It's as though the listener is actually feeding you with the material you need and the output is a join effort.

It struck me once that all good verbal communication takes on the nature of a triangle.  You have the speaker and the listener, but, in addition, there's the all-important third point which is formed by the inter-connection.  Not only is this third point one of inter-connection, it can also be fertile.  The listener doesn't need to give voice to a response for the speaker to gain inspiration from the power of that vital link.

Could this, I wonder, be just what our over-heated, noisy world needs?  Not more articulate, committed speakers, but a profusion of equally committed and willing listeners?
Listeners who will enable speakers to hear what it is that they are really saying, listeners who will be the conciliators, the peace-makers, the unifiers.

And the lovely thing about being a good listener is that it's a role we can all play.
How about it . . . ?  Or do we all know exactly what I mean, but . . . ?