In our culture, speaking up is revered. Doing so loudly seems to be taking on even more value. But what about listening? How valued is listening, and how valued should it be?
We can broaden our perspective and see it in leadership, but let’s tighten up our focus and look around and within us. I think we must allow for some individual process. We might know some people who aren’t great at listening right now, but it’s for a variety of temporary situations we know they will move through and potentially begin to listen better. For instance, many young people need to find their voice, and when they start to explore and express, they can spew and stream much more than listen. People who have been in oppressive environments, whether at work or home or situationally, often need a time of venting and processing to heal through what they’ve experienced or continue to endure. In the last year, we have many people who have been more isolated than usual, and they need to verbalize to share what they’ve been thinking and doing.
But when we have the maturity and compassion for listening? Why aren’t we practicing those skills and extending respect for others? I’ve had this conversation with many people, and one reason I often hear is something like, “I think listening is important, but so is expressing my opinion. If I just listen and don’t say anything, that’s not being true to who I am. That’s not healthy for me. That just looks like I agree with everything the other person is saying, and I don’t.”
Why do we position listening mainly within the context of incongruent values and opinions? Because we don’t struggle with like-minded people as much? Maybe, but I don’t think that’s true much of the time. If we’re honest, I think we still find ourselves jumping into the conversation to spout the details with which we don’t agree. But yes, we think we’re better listeners when we agree with people, because basically we are listening to ourselves, and we have no problem with that.
And the quiet people who don’t verbalize while not listening aren’t off the hook. Withholding objections in a conversation doesn’t presume good listening skills. There can be a loud disagreement going on within someone’s thought process that never gets expressed. That affects listening. Or sometimes we just start thinking about something else and basically leave the conversation even though we are still in the situation. That affects listening.
Good listening does not equal agreeing with everything someone says. Good listening does not equal letting someone walk all over us. Good listening is intentional engagement. It’s not about an end result or resolution. It’s about respect, compassion, patience, and relationship. Good listening doesn’t short-change relationships by insisting every conversation resolves all differences. Good listening has a longer vantage point.
Good listening requires humility, sacrifice, wisdom, and respect. If we want to be better at listening, perhaps we need to focus on those qualities, not just when in a conversation but at all times. If we strengthen the foundation of our character, we’ll communicate with others in much healthier ways.