We very often underestimate the importance of listening. Listening to someone makes a huge difference because the other person feels that someone is actually interested in what they are saying. By listening to someone, you are giving them the space to express themselves, their inner needs, their issues and problems and their personal beliefs and opinions. The person is made to feel comfortable and more at ease once they know that someone is genuinely interested in what they want and need. This is especially true in a conflict situation. When people are angry and in a conflict situation, they very often do not listen to each other, this elevates the anger and makes the situation worse as people feel that what they are saying is not regarded as important.
“How many people do you know who listen to you properly? Most of us know very few. Quite apart from wanting air time to speak about their own thoughts, feelings and experiences, many people we know will put their own ‘spin’ on what we say rather than listen accurately and deeply to us” (Nelson-Jones, 2000, p.123). Even though we all say that we listen to each other, we very often do not listen properly, and we listen hastily and miss out on important information. In addition, we sometimes misinterpret and misunderstand what the other person is saying to us. Instead of listening and understanding the other person’s point of view, we listen and interpret according to our own opinions, feelings and ideas. “Listening to understand” is therefore very different from “listening” because when we listen to understand we begin to see things from the other person’s point of view instead of our own. In a conflict situation, only if we listen to understand will we be able to resolve things.
The following exercise can be used to illustrate how often people don’t listen properly and how important information can easily be left out or misinterpreted.
Read the following and respond to each: Answer honestly, DON’T CHECK THE ANSWER’S UNTIL YOU’VE MADE AN ATTEMPT.
1. Is there any federal law against a man’s marrying his widow's sister?
2. If you only had one match and entered a cold room that had a kerosene lamp, an oil heater and a wood stove, which would you light first for maximum heat?
3. How many animals of each species did Moses take aboard the Ark with him during the great flood?
4. The Yankees and the Tigers play 5 baseball games. They each win 3 games. No ties or disputed games are involved. How come?
5. According to International Law, if an airplane should crash on the exact border between two countries, would unidentified survivors be buried in the country they were traveling to or the country they were traveling from?
6. You’re the driver of a bus. At the first bus stop, 10 people get on. At the second stop 12 people get on and 2 get off, at the third stop 5 people get on and 2 gets off, at the fourth 2 people get on, at the 5th, 1 person gets off, etc, etc… What is your age?
7. A man was driving with his son and got killed in an accident. The son needed an operation but the surgeon said: “I cannot operate. The patient is my son.” Who is the surgeon?
8. A man left his house and put the keys in his pocket. A thief came and robbed the house. How did he enter?
This exercise illustrates how we think that we are listening to something but yet we still do not listen carefully enough. This leads us to miss out on important information. In addition, we listen according to our own point of view and according to our own beliefs, opinions and ideas. Because we don’t listen to understand we tend to misinterpret information and we hear things in a very closed and one-sided fashion. Our preconceived ideas do not allow us to open our minds and listen to understand the next person. We should remember that listening is not only done with our ears, but on a more holistic level, listening is done with our hearts and minds as well. This type of holistic listening should be an ideal that we work towards and will be especially helpful for us in conflict situations.
An important thing to consider when we are listening is that individuals see things differently and have different points of view. When we “listen to understand” we will need to try very hard to “go into the other person’s mind and heart” and try to understand their own personal world.
You will find that with time when you become more tuned towards focusing on finer details and when you begin to pay more attention to the actual content of what’s being said, then it will become easier for you to quickly reach the correct answer. This is exactly the same with listening to other people. When we pay attention to what they’re saying and when we truly listen with an open heart and mind, then it will become easier for us to resolve conflicts.
Answers to riddles:
1. There is no law against a man’s marrying his widow’s sister, but it would be the neatest trick of the week. To have a widow, he would have to be dead.
2. The match
3. Moses took no animals at all. It was Noah who took two of each.
4. Who said the Yankees and Tigers were playing against each other in those games.
5. You can’t bury survivors under any law-especially if they still have enough strength to object!
6. How would you know if it wasn’t mentioned?
7. The mother
8. The man put the keys in his pocket and he forgot to lock the door.
Insha'Allah in the next post- "Listening to Understand- Part B" we will discuss listening in some more detail.
Until then, I leave you in Peace! May the Almighty Allah shower endless peace and blessings upon you!
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