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The Art of Listening

Updated: Feb 1, 2022

In a world where information is available at the click of a button, or even in the time it takes to ask “Syrie” for the answer, it’s interesting how many people feel disconnected, unheard and alone. At The Institute For Creative Conversation we believe that learning to listen is a life long quest which, with a little practice, provides depth in relationships, opens new and exciting conversations and deepens the human connection in fundamental ways.

In this article we explore 4 steps any person can take in learning to listen, to deepen understanding, connections and community.

Step 1: What is YOUR story?

Truly listening to another person starts with being more conscious of your own listening story because a variety of elements contribute to how you listen and what could be holding you back from hearing the other person.

Here are 3 questions for you to answer that will help you to have a better understanding of your own listening story and how that story might be influencing the way you listen to others:

  • How did you learn to listen to others?

This first questions will take you back to your earliest memories of learning to listen. Perhaps you remember listening to your father’s voice rumble through his chest as you rested in his lap, or your mothers voice reading you a story. Perhaps your first memories of listening, are related to obeying commands.

Whatever the first memories you have of listening might be, take some time to write those stories down and do a little thinking about how those memories may influence your ability to listen to others.

  • Who listened to you?

This next question is about identifying people in your life who listened to you. Maybe your friends were people who really took the time to hear what you were saying, or not saying. Perhaps a teacher or a girlfriend /boyfriend listened to you.

Think about how those people helped you to feel heard, did they ask you questions, were they just quiet or did they share similar examples of times they’d experienced something similar that helped you to work through what you were dealing with.

  • How do I listen?

Finally take some time to ask those you trust how you listen, and, be brave here, how you don’t listen. Take an honest look at your listening strengths and weaknesses so that you know what you are working with.

Step 2: How has society influenced your ideas about listening?

The next step to better understanding how you listen is to take a very critical look at how societal norms have shaped your view of listening. These societal norms can be tricky to identify as they form the very basis within which we live. Here are a few interesting questions to explore:

  • How do movies and media influence ideas about listening to people who come from minority groups, people who are poor, people who are different, people who are marginalised?

  • How does South African society define who is “worthy” to be listened to?

  • How does religion define who is worthy to be listened to?

  • How does your culture define who is worthy to be listened to?

  • How does your extended family define who is worthy to be listened to?

  • How do you define who is worthy to be listened to?

Take some time to really think about the answers to these questions and you’ll probably start to uncover some areas that need to be further explored. In journeying with these questions you can also take it a step further and think about the societal “filters” that alter the voice of these different groups because of preconceptions.

Step 3: How do YOU listen to God?

The next step in your journey in uncovering the art of listening is a deeper look at God and how He/She fits in to your listening world view. Here are a few interesting questions to guide you as you explore listening further:

  • What is your image of God?

  • How did you come to this understand of who God is?

  • How does your image of God affect how you listen to him?

  • How does your image of God affect how you feel he listens to you?

In exploring these questions think about people and events that have specifically brought you to these conclusions. Think also of other events that counter these conclusions and could, also be affecting the way you perceive listening to God and how God listens to you.

Step 4: How to listen to someone else

As you have moved through the steps we hope you’ve discovered some interesting facets to your listening story and have been able to pinpoint certain listening habits that may have crept in. To help you to better listen to others there are 5 great Narrative Listening concepts that you can apply.

  • No assumptions

Assumptions are some of the most damaging elements when it comes to really listening to someone because they place a filter over you ability to really hear the other person. When you are more conscious of assumptions you’ll be able to listen more effectively.

  • No judgement

As with assumptions, judging the person you are listening to will skew everything they say. By choosing to withhold judgement you’ll open yourself up to really listening to what is being said.

  • Acceptance

Choosing to accept the person you are listening to without conditions empowers an open listening space.

  • Respect

Respect can only come when you choose not to assume or judge and you accept the person as they are. With respect comes the opportunity to listen in a way that gifts the other person with the attention their story deserves.

  • Curiosity

Being curious about the other persons story in a non-judgemental, respectful manner opens the opportunity to explore facets of who they are and how that story has affected them and their world view, in new and exciting ways.

Learning to listen is the most rewarding, life giving and exciting journey. For more information on Narrative Therapy training through The Institute For Conversation, click here.


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