The Art of Listening

November 30, 2012

On listening rather than hearing

By Koseli. Beautiful photo from Men + West.

A recent opinion piece in The New York Times, The Science and Art of Listening, addresses why listening is so much more than hearing. We’re bombarded with a cacophony of sounds, opinions, and pulling interests and to keep our brains and hearts sharp and clear, we must learn to listen, rather than just hear.

“Listening is a skill that we’re in danger of losing in a world of digital distraction and information overload…listening tunes our brain to the patterns of our environment faster than any other sense, and paying attention to the nonvisual parts of our world feeds into everything from our intellectual sharpness to our dance skills.”

After reading this article, I sneaked into the bedroom to watch and listen to my little boy sleep, one of my treasured (albeit slightly risky) habits over the past year. When I’m really listening and observing, the moment is transportive. When a distraction snaps me back into reality, I feel grateful and refreshed from the focus.

What about you? I’d love to know if you think of yourself as a good listener. Do others commend your listening ear? When is the last time you really listened and what was it that you heard?

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November 30, 2012 at 11:41 am

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Annik November 30, 2012 at 7:16 am

I think that my listening ear is overdeveloped. My mom still tells the story of how everyone had to tiptoe around the house when I was a baby because I would wake at the smallest creak in the floor. Now that I am a mom to two teenagers I have the same problem as we definitely do not have the same bedtime!

I must also be know as a good listener as pretty much every day at least one person will come sit in my office to talk about their troubles. I used to get overwhelmed and absorb others’ emotions, but I have learned over time to listen attentively without getting involved.


2 Sarah November 30, 2012 at 7:27 am

it’s solo important – and it might be the main reason i really limit TV – i want my son to learn to listen to silence, to his own thoughts, to see where they go (and they go some very interesting places!).


3 Koseli Cummings November 30, 2012 at 1:06 pm

It’s so important to be comfortable with silence. I like this thought, Sarah!


4 Jimmy November 30, 2012 at 7:35 am

This summer I sat and listened to my grandfather-in-law put on a clinic in the art of listening. It was the night-cap hour of the evening, and his daughter (my mother-in-law) was talking about her horses – her favorite hobby – and he was completely engaged. He hung on every detail, and prompted others by asking the right kind of questions – the kind that not only showed he’d been listening during that particular conversation, but the kind that showed he’d been listening to her all along, for many years.

It was a cool moment, especially now that I have my own daughter. I want her to know that I truly listen to her. This was my chance to see that in action, from a real expert on the subject.


5 Koseli Cummings November 30, 2012 at 1:08 pm

Your grandfather in law sounds amazing, Jimmy. We can learn so much from the good listeners around us.


6 Gina November 30, 2012 at 8:08 am

My favorite time is when I am in the mountains, usually going for the trail run. You can hear the wind rustling the grass and trees. You can hear the bird and small critters. But usually the loudest are my thoughts, and some of my greatest ideas.


7 Koseli Cummings November 30, 2012 at 1:07 pm

The quiet of nature is the best. It’s something I miss often living in a big city. Thank you, Gina!


8 jill November 30, 2012 at 9:37 am

So important! Thanksi


9 Aline November 30, 2012 at 9:41 am

Interesting article! It’s so sad that sometimes in our days we have to remember such things that should be natural: listening, loving, being patient, breathing, seeking the core of the things, the importance of the small things, the nature, homemade food…. I hope I can always remember the importance of being simple!


10 Chrissy November 30, 2012 at 8:27 pm

my very favorite part of being a mother and a wife is listening to what all of the men…young and old(er)…have to say and how they interact with one another when they don’t know anyone is listening and especially how they express love. I have the blessing of some super loving boys and a husband that has always ALMOST but not quite smothered and killed me (lol…I used to require a lot of personal space and now I just think about it wistfully….) with how much he expresses love and appreciation. As another person, similar to Annik, that seems to draw people toward me that need to talk….it can be easy to be overwhelmed. Overwhelmed by their feelings, overwhelmed by how they feel about you, even. Definitely overwhelmed by responsibility you begin to feel to everyone to listen and be supportive and objective and sometimes to tell them something they need to hear but don’t necessarily want to hear. With three little boys, one very opinion-rich husband and one informally adopted son in his early twenties that comes from a very traumatic childhood filled with neglect…this latter moment seems to crop up a lot.
How does one learn to organize all of that emotion flowing out of others toward you? I still haven’t gotten that part quite right.


11 Ann December 3, 2012 at 11:46 am

I lost 50% of my hearing a couple months ago. I’ve since gained most of my hearing back but when this happened I realized how much I relied on just plain hearing and realized the importance of eye contact and connecting with someone when you/they are trying to communicate with them. I needed to face the person and see their eyes. This was so frustrating especially being a mother and tending to the needs of my children. I was constantly tapping my ear to remind them and tapping them on the shoulder to repeat and to face me. It was amazing to me how many people look away when they talk in conversation. I don’t know if I’ve explained this well enough but I hope you get the idea.


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