An article by Dr. Heidi Lepper, Ph.D.

Positive Psychology: The True Art of Listening

It goes something like this to my youngest son: "God gave you two ears and one mouth so that you listen twice as much as you talk." I started saying that a few years ago when my wee one, who is no longer so wee, showed signs of being a little me.

For twenty plus years, I have been trying to learn to listen. I met the man of my dreams and he just so happens to be a really good listener! He is contemplative and thoughtful about the words that he uses, he wants to understand me as well as others and tries hard to listen to what we all have to say. A remarkable quality not many of us have, but one I have always loved within him.

I, on the other hand, am highly energetic, a bit hyper some would say, with lots on my mind and grand hopes to share all of that with others...so much so that I spent many years so busy talking that I often failed to listen well. I must be a lovable creature in many ways, for my man would have ditched me long ago because I have talked over him, around him, through him, and under him for much of our life together. But God help me, I have a son whom I love and adore more than I can find the words for, but he talks over me, around me, through me and under me every day of his life!

I do believe I have changed, I do believe I am finally a good, active, compassionate listener, and how have I done that?

Well first by having to raise a little me. A young boy who with his enthusiasm for life fails to listen for he is so busy talking! Ah, a mirror is a wonderful teacher. So by telling him he has two ears and one mouth, I too have learned the same in myself! By combining this imagery with my knowledge about personality traits and inner dialogue I have truly become a much better listener because I have truly learned to stop talking so very much!

Inner Talk, Defensiveness and Self-Focus

Along with innumerable programs to learn the art of listening that you may find (for instance see, Active Listening), I am confident that the following ideas will help you too become a better partner in any conversation.

  • Stop the Inner Dialouge! One of the main barriers to active listening is that we often are talking too much on the inside. We are so busy thinking about how we will respond, how we can defend ourselves, how we can get in the last word, and so forth that we cannot actually hear what the other has to say. Once you appreciate that this inner talk is ongoing, all the time, never turned off, you can start to hear it and then turn it off or at least lower its volume. You can reset that inner talk button by knowing the other has something just as important to say as yourself.
  • Give Up the Self-Focus! This then leads into point two: Do you really think that other person has something just as important to say? This is easy for those with true compassion and interest in others, and amazingly hard for those of us prone to a bit of Type A Behavior Pattern. Many of us have heard the term "Type A" and some of us may identify ourselves with it. First described decades ago by two cardiologists Meyer Friedman and R.H. Rosenman, it is equated with being driven, ambitious, competitive, time urgent, and perhaps even a bit hostile.

    This personality trait is a combination of genetic qualities and early social and emotional effects that produce long standing patterns of dominance over others...Type A individuals put themselves, their thoughts, their feelings, their goals, their drives first, ahead of others. And the moment we put ourselves in front of another, we are deafened to what they have to say. Type A's are amazingly self-focused and so therefore are prone to a ton of inner dialogue when another is talking. I believe that once you view Type A tendencies in this way, as a self-righteous self-focus, you will think "But wait, that is not what I mean!" and slowly retrain yourself to become less self and more other focused.

    (You can find out your own score by taking the Type A Personality Test.)

Need I go on? I think you get my point that much of the time you are not listening, you are too busy with your inner talk of defensiveness, planning, reminiscing, and so forth to truly hear what the other has to say. You are goal driven, you want your point heard, so you bulldoze over the other in that quest. You have two mouths instead of one but no more, now when you look in the mirror you will in fact see only one mouth, but two ears. Listen twice as much as you talk.

You can read more about the relationship between Type A Behavior Pattern and listening skills in an article by: Stephanie Lee Sargent; Margaret Fitch-Hauser; James B. Weaver III International Journal of Listening, 1932-586X, Volume 11, Issue 1, 1997, Pages 1 - 14.

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Copyright © 2009 Dr. Heidi Lepper, Ph.D.  All rights reserved.