Learning to listen
Updated: Feb 28
In honor of, Sam Cooke's iconic 1963 song, "A Change is Gonna Come," this blog post is dedicated to everyone who is;
waiting for change
longing for change
advocating for change
hoping for change
fighting for change
afraid of change
Factually speaking, positive change is something humans strive towards to varying degrees from birth to death. We know that individuals, organizations, communities, governments, and society as a whole all benefit from positive change.
Most also realize that positive change occurs through increased understanding, action, and a willingness to listen to another person's viewpoint.
Before we can activate and maintain positive change, we must first fully understand. And before we can fully understand, we must first listen.
In today's world, possessing excellent communication skills has become more critical than ever. Yet, as a society, we seem to devote less time to listening to one another. As a result, genuine listening has become a rarity in the age of our high-tech, high-stress, high-speed lives.
Keep in mind that genuine listening helps build relationships, solve problems, ensure understanding, resolve conflicts, and improve accuracy.
How excellent are your listening skills? I admit, outside my office, mine could use some work. Genuine listening involves hearing another person's perspective, which sometimes results in emotional discomfort and uncomfortable feelings.
With the above in mind, coupled with everything taking place in our world today, we can all benefit from identifying and reflecting on our most dominant listening style as we work towards positive change. Reflection leads to self-awareness. And ultimately, in becoming more mindful of how we choose to listen in the future.
There are countless ways to listen, and some of those ways are proven to be more effective than others. For the sake of brevity, I've included three different listening styles in this post. While reading, see if you can identify your current go-to listening style below.
Listening To Win- when we only listen for the sake of gathering up ammunition to give a rebuttal or win an argument. This type of listening doesn't open us up to hear and ultimately learn from another person's perspective or life experiences.
When we listen to win, our brain is too busy listening to things we can use against the person as soon as we get an opportunity to respond. This type of listening lacks understanding and empathy.
Additionally, listening to win makes it more difficult to find common ground or resolve a conflict. Listening to win rarely leads to an actual conversation. Most often, it only creates upset, incites anger, and divides us even more.
Listening To Fix- listening to what the person is saying so we can make things better. We offer ideas or solutions to help the person fix their problems or change their opinions. This is where boundaries during challenging conversations are crucial.
Remember, it is not our job to fix a person, nor can we force the person to agree with our perspective. All we have control of is the willingness to be open to having a real conversation about it. Rather than focusing on how we think we know better or think things should be done differently, it is crucial to come to the table with an open mind.
When we listen to fix, we can sometimes inadvertently take on the personal responsibility of others. People who come across as "know it all's" do so because they are listening to fix it. This type of listening can cause the other person to feel attacked and become defensive, which prevents meaningful conversation from occurring.
Listening to Learn- when we cast aside all preconceived notions about the other person and genuinely listen to what they have to say. We allow the other person to teach us about their life experience or viewpoint and help us see where they are coming from on any given issue.
This type of listening doesn't mean you have to agree with the person, nor do you have to condone their choices or behavior; it just means you are willing to hear them out without judgment, in a respectful manner.
Listening to learn is a form of genuine, empathetic listening. When we listen to learn, we come to the table with an open mind, which allows us to increase understanding because we can more easily emotionally put ourselves in someone else's shoes. This listening style can be difficult to practice it requires putting our own, strong feelings, upset, anger, and ideals on the back burner momentarily to hear what the other person is saying fully.
Before entering a conversation that has the potential to become uncomfortable, take into account how you would like to be talked to, or listened to. Ask the person if they are open to a discussion about x,y,z. If so, then ask if they feel comfortable enough to hear a different viewpoint.
It is essential to keep the above things in mind while having tough conversations about sensitive topics when the ultimate goal is to promote positive change.
Luckily, by simply shifting the way we listen to one another, we can open up a whole new space for each of us to understand each other better. And increased understanding of different perspectives is the cornerstone for peace, unity, and yes, positive change.
Finally, my hope is that we can all improve our "listening to learn" skills as we work towards activating positive change in our families, our communities, and the world at large.
In the words, of Sam Cooke,
"It's been a long time coming, a long time coming, but I know a change gonna come. Oh, yes, it will."
For additional inspiration, Sam's original song with lyrics can be found here.
Misti Luke is a licensed therapist in rural Oklahoma, where she maintains a small private counseling practice. Misti provides in-office and online treatment for behavioral health issues. For correspondence, firstname.lastname@example.org
Disclaimer: The contents of this blog post are for informational purposes only and do not constitute medical or behavioral health treatment, nor should it be used to diagnose yourself or anyone else. Correspondence with Misti Luke does not constitute a professional, therapeutic relationship. If you are in emotional distress or are unable to keep yourself safe, dial 911 immediately or go to your nearest emergency room.