Active listening


Imagine the following situation. A father with his son are driving to the camping site for the weekend. The deer was crossing the road and the car hit it. The father dies in the accident and the son is badly injured. He was swiftly brought to the emergency room and requires surgery. A surgeon enters the room, sees the boy and exclaims: “I can’t operate – this is my son!”.

How is it possible?

Think about it for a few moments…

Didn’t his father die in the accident? The answer is really simple.

It is his mother who is the surgeon.

Why is this relevant to the subject of active listening you might ask? The fact is, that we all make assumptions. It is natural and it can be very useful. That’s the way our brain can simplify our life creating patterns of behaviour and thought.

This, however, can be an obstacle preventing us from active listening. Referring back to the example above, most of the people assume that the surgeon in the story has to be a man. But, as it turns out this is not always the case. Being able to clear your mind from the assumptions regarding particular people and situations can dramatically improve our ability to listen.

Try to understand the real problem, not the one you assume and the one you are so eager to propose a solution to.

Unfortunately, it takes a lot of mental effort to engage in active listening. And it is not only about our assumptions and stereotypes. You can play the following game with your friend to understand the degree of focus required.

Your friend should have different coins (for example, one, five, ten, twenty pence if you live in the UK). the more coins you have harder the game. The next step is for you to listen to the sound each coin makes when your friend drops in on the table, which you are allowed to see. Finally, the purpose of the game is to keep your eyes closed and then guess which coin is being dropped at any given moment.

Regardless of your success rate, what you might realise is that it requires tremendous concentration to remember these small differences in the sound.

The point is that our thoughts can distract us from achieving the required concentration. We might think about our next question, possible solution or something completely irrelevant. Whereas, the key is to focus all our attention on another person, instead of yourself.

Image courtesy of anankkml/


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