The Art of Listening

By Kim Olver

As a healthy relationship habit, listening isn’t just about hearing another person, waiting for them to stop talking so you can jump in with your “words of wisdom.” Listening is about doing your best to understand another person. Try to stand in their shoes, be in their skin and see the world with their eyes as best you can. No one can have perfect understanding of another. That would mean you would have to actually be that other person, but we can work at doing the best we can.

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Understanding doesn’t mean you have to agree. You can see it from another’s point of view and still maintain your own perspective as true for you. One example is a wife who speaks to her husband about his excessive drinking. She believes his drinking is having a serious effect on his health, particularly his achy joints and his liver. He explains to her that he has a lot of anger that he doesn’t understand and that drinking helps him contain that anger. She is able to understand his perspective without agreeing with him. It helps her be more understanding of the reason he drinks.

Another example, involves an incident when I was sixteen. I remember asking my mother if I could stay home from school. She asked if I was sick and I replied, “No, I’m not sick but I can’t go to school with this huge zit on the end of my nose. Everyone will stare at me!” My mother’s response: “Kimberly Marie, get ready for school. You won’t even remember this five years from now.” Well, I’m 53 and I still remember it, Mom.

This is not to say I think my mother should have allowed me to go stay home from school. What I wish is that she would have listened to me to understand how devastated and desperate I was feeling. She might have even shared about a time she had a pimple and it wasn’t as bad as she thought it would be. Almost any response would have been better than having my perspective completely disregarded. (The funny thing is, in one way my mother was right. I don’t remember my classmates reactions that day but I do remember my mother not really listening to me.)

Do you have any stories about a time when someone didn’t listen to you? Or maybe you have a story about a time when someone did and it really made a difference. Can you be the person today who really listens to someone important to you to understand their point of view?

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