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The key to communication: listening

Posted Feb 09 2010 12:00am

By Dr. Mic Hunter, Licensed Psychologist, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, and author

Rachel Naomi Remen was right when she wrote in her book Kitchen Table Wisdom about the importance of listening:

“Listening is the oldest and perhaps the most powerful tool of healing. It is often through the quality of our listening and not the wisdom of our words that we are able to effect the most profound changes in the people around us.

“I suspect that the most basic and powerful way to connect to another person is to listen. Just listen. Perhaps the most important thing we ever give each other is our attention. And especially if it’s given from the heart. When people are talking, there’s no need to do anything but receive them. Just take them in. Listen to what they’re saying. Care about it. Most times caring about it is even more important than understanding it.”

Even though listening is one of the best things we can do for our relationships, many people spend more time watching television than talking with their loved ones. Even people who spend time after meetings listening to newcomers and sponsees can suddenly become listening-impaired when they walk into their own house.

There are a number of reasons for this. First, for some people, as soon as a family member says something they assume it is going to eventually lead to talking about the past which will trigger guilt and shame about what they did and didn’t do that caused harm to others. They would just as soon avoid that if possible. Secondly, people have a tendency to bring their relationship dynamics from one relationship into others. For example, a woman approaches her husband and says, “We need to talk.” Instead of saying, “Sure honey, what’s on your mind?” He says, “Now what?” He does this because his brain, like every other person’s brain is a pattern recognition device. The human brain is always looking for patterns because patterns help predict what is about to take place. In this case, when the man’s wife spoke to him his brain was already searching for previous examples of interactions with women in order to predict what might occur. If the man has a history of being in conflicted relationships with women his brain is likely to predict that conflict is about to take place. He then behaves in a way that actually makes conflict likely to occur a self-fulfilling prophesy. 

What can he do to break this pattern? Listen. Don’t just do something sit there and listen. 

God/nature gave us two ears and one mouth because we are designed to listen twice as much as we talk.

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