The art of listening


“The greatest compliment that was ever paid me was when one asked me what I thought and attended to my answer.” Thoreau.

In my work as a facilitator, coach and mentor and in my personal life as friend and family member, I believe that the greatest gift I can give to another is to listen. What do I mean by listening? I mean to be present, hold the space, make eye contact and just listen. I’m the first to admit I occasionally (ok not just occasionally) get caught up with the constant buzz and distraction of notifications, beeps, message tones and pings, but when I’m connecting with another person I do my best to be just there, full stop.

First of all I’d like to say what listening is NOT:

  • Something you do while waiting for your turn to speak, to sound clever, to respond, to add value to the conversation.
  • Making shopping lists in your head, wondering what the football score is, or thinking about what to make for dinner while the other person opens their heart and mind.
  • Something you do while scrolling through Facebook, reading or responding to a text. It can wait, it will all still be there, I promise.
  • A burden, a waste of time or an inconvenience.


So what IS listening?;

  • A privilege, a sacred space where another human being is sharing thoughts, feelings and experiences.
  • Opening your ears, heart and mind to be present to another.
  • Keeping your mouth closed for a while, we have two ears and only one mouth for a reason.
  • Being open to learn something.
  • Allowing silences, which is something we are not comfortable with. Just for a change, don’t rush to fill them, allow them to be and wait for the other person to fill them. Silences are where the gold often comes from.
  • An opportunity for growth, for yourself and others.
  • An opportunity to deepen and enrich relationships.
  • Sometimes listening can be enough to save a life.

In my work as a facilitator and coach I teach the importance of listening and it’s one of the most common “take home” messages and ‘aha moments’  that people come away with. During Mental Health First Aid training I like to share a video from Kevin Briggs who is a retired police officer who previously patrolled the Golden Gate Bridge. Kevin shares with great heart and passion the difference that just being there and listening can make, and yes it can make enough of a difference to save a life. If you haven’t seen his incredibly moving and powerful talk, I highly recommend taking the time to watch it here.


We also need to remember that listening is just one part of the whole package of effective communication, which I will write more on later. Communication is my thang and I could write and talk about it all day. One of the greatest compliments is to be told I’m a good listener, and one of my biggest ginormous huge peeves is to not feel heard.

For now, how about the next time somebody calls you (you can tell if somebody is still scrolling when you are on the phone, the idea of multi tasking is a myth, please don’t do it!) or sits down to have a chat, whether it’s about the awesome restaurant they went to, their marriage, kids or other important and meaningful topics:

  • Put your device on silent and turn it upside down.
  • Look them in the eyes.
  • Set aside any judgements.
  • Show empathy.
  • Open your ears and truly listen to what is being said.
  • Allow for those uncomfortable yet delicious and golden silences.
  • Listen, listen, listen.

The difference it can make is amazing and I can guarantee you will both feel better and more fulfilled for the experience and who knows, it might just become a habit!

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