Wise listener?

A good listener is the wisest of persons – W.G.P

(Some day I shall look up more about the person who made up the quote, but knowing how easily I digress and being short of time to write each morning, I will save it for the weekend if I can remember).

Now back to the quote. A good listener. First I will pull apart good because we make our own judgements of what is good and bad. We will each interpret it as something favourable though. This quote is very relevant for me because I have had much anguish over feeling that I am not in fact a good listener. Therefore I have taken note of and kept a lot of infomration regarding how to be a ‘good listener’. I shall give the jist of some of them here.

Put all your focus on what the other person is saying and do not let your mind wander.

Make encouraging noises to show you are still listening such as uh huh; nod a bit, that sort of thing

Rephrase some of what they are saying to show you have understood

Use body language to convey that you are listening

Try not to interject

Try not to always be thinking about what you want to say when you next interject

(There is even a strange bit of advice by Anthony Robbins which says you should mirroring the other person’s body language, so that they feel in harmony with you.)

I am sure there is a lot more to it but that is off the top of my head. I keep this information but I can’t say I have mastered all of those things. When I was an angst ridden teenager I worked out that my failure to ‘listen’ didn’t always work out well for me. I remember once getting a red pen and putting a big L on the back of my hand so that I might see it and be snapped out of my enthuasiasm enough to listen when I was next at a gathering. It really felt that important to me.

I had some interview feedback recently and I was again told to ‘just stop talking’ (and therefore listen) and I agree this can be a smart thing to do in the right circumstances. (But define ‘right’.)

Anyway I digress so I shall continue on with the quote. The wisest of persons. What is wise? We assume that they have amassed much information and held on to it. This may not actually be so. If they were not that smart (active mind, a million connections, good memory etc) to begin with, they may not be ‘wise’ by this definition. If they were not really interested in the subject nothing might have been absorbed at all, as it would not connect and attach to any information the listener already had. There would be no retention either. If the other person was simply having a rant about something or someone that annoyed them there is not much wisdom to be gained by that information ot itself. If you are listening by the rules above, you are empathising even if not agreeing that the subject in question as so terrible. All good. However you would not be using your own mind at the same time to come to your own conclusions about why the talker is feeling this way, or interpreting events as such.

Which comes to my point. I agree that listening to someone else means that you are more likely to learn something new from them than if you are talking and only hearing what comes out of your own mouth, but this is not always so and it does not make you the wisest of persons. Firstly, women like to think out loud (and in my case, right here, write out loud) because we may get insights even as we are talking, by the mere act of forming words and sentences, and causing our brains to compute in a different way. But more importantly, and this is my main conclusion today, we may also, by interjecting (and therefore not being ‘good’ listeners) steer the conversation towards more interesting or useful information which would help both of our wisdom to be better served. If we interject, by adding our own thoughts to the conversation the other person may gain new insights themselves and you can bounce off each other to form new joint insights. By not listening to what upsets or disturbs you, your life will be calmer, and more reflective and leave you the energy to form your own insights. By not listening you can screen out the myriad of information we are bombarded with each second and advance your own, more original thinking.

I was told recently that I am a good listener by someone I consider to be wise. I immediately protested my innocence of this characteristic by not hearing what he had to say next and giving multiple reasons for my denial. Being wise, he patiently explained that I take it in though and can make reference to what I have heard later. I realise that I often listen, pick it up really quickly (though I sometimes get it wrong) and then jump in with enthusiasm because their words have inspired new thoughts and conclusions which I want to share. Unless they realise that, I am considered a bad listener.

I love reading. I love it with a passion. In effect I am listening super well when I am reading, because I can interject all I like and the other messsage will still be the same and I will understand and process the information. I can go back over the words and form new insights. I can listen at my own pace and reread what really ‘speaks’ to me. In this case I am an excellent listener. I like to think I am wise but wisdom is on a continuum and is too big a subject to delve into today.

The difference between listening to a book and listening to a person is that the information in a book is static and non-interactive and will not change by my reading it. I recently read the quote about ‘standing on the shoulder of giants’ whereby someone great implied that he could not take credit for his new insights and advances in some subjects because he acknowledged all those (giants) who had gone before him and allowed him easy access to a certain amount of information, on which he could add his insights and elaborate and advance. And that to me is what conversation should be about. Collaboration, learning as you speak, being open to new views, teaching each other all the way. I do not want to be preached at. I feel I have something to add which may or may not be unknown by the other person but which may cause their thinking and learning to grow, merely by changing the course or refining the conversation. Digressing is fine; it’s fun and I allow myself to do it regularly.

I do not believe a ‘good’ listener would be allowed to interject and redirect the conversation. I believe this ‘bad listening’ however would make both/all the listeners ‘wiser’.

Thinking about ‘wise’ again, for me it brings up an image of a cartoon owl wearing tweed and reading glasses with small woodland creatures around him. The kind of knowledge he has is about history and geography and useful, clearly defined subjects. He is not particularly creative, just full of ‘truths’. And yet ‘truths’ change regularly. Eat this, eat that to be healthy, the world is this, the universe is that. It can’t be counted on though, really.

So I think I will take this statement with a pinch of salt. I will continue to do my ‘listening’ by reading and learning, however in order to become wise I will also need a real person and an exchange of ideas, to push the boundaries of knowledge. Listening skills will certainly contribute to the good feeling of the person speaking but it will make neither of you wiser.