Few people truly listen. They may be great ‘hear-ers’, but they don’t listen with all their faculties. They use their brain for thinking-when hearing a speaker. This causes them to utilize their cognition with a focus on interpretation, rather than on observation.

Just as you have to get a clear image of a picture before interpreting the photographer’s, painter’s, or draftsman’s intention, in creating it, you have to receive all of a story in the body of words used by a speaker before understanding him.*

Poor listening occurs when a listener thinks his or her role is to quickly interpret and Judge. This is particularly true if s/he thinks s/he is supposed to give advice, or find ‘ammunition’ with which to plan a rebuttal in his or her defense, as say in an argument.

This, I call deconstructive or offensive listening, because it causes the story to be deconstructed, and it is used in an offensive nature; accidentally or intentionally. It could also-for obvious reasons-be called defensive listening. One might call it selfish listening, too, but I resist this choice insofar as most people do it accidentally, and ‘selfish’ can imply blame.

‘Deconstructive’, or ‘offensive’ listening causes the speaker to have his or her points lost and destroyed and his or her main concept unreachable, because s/he winds up having to re-explain and defend his or her points, thereby never reaching his or her conclusion. How? This is accomplished by interruption. This causes frustration-often quickly-as it is noticed that the listener is causing-or will cause this breakdown.

An argument will likely ensue as the speaker asks for better listening and a withholding of judgement.

The remedy for this is to;

1. Listen with no agenda.
2. Try to form feelings and pictures of what the speaker is saying, rather than translations of his or her ideas into yours, or into interpretations of his or her words into set concepts of one discipline or another. 3. Remember the speaker probably has a conclusion in mind.
4. Remember the main point of listening is to allow someone to tell a whole story of his view, feelings, experience, and finally, details of all that.
5. Don’t get lost in interpreting each detail as a set concept; it’s part of a whole. You can always ask a speaker to repeat his story if you want details.
6. You should never be asking questions until the speaker is done telling his story. When you interrupt, even to help understand, you change the story! This is because the focus of a monolog becomes lost in the microcosmic minutae of focus on dialog, and the story becomes lost in tangents.

Listening is-among other things-an act of gathering information, but more than that, it’s about establishing the concoction of an image in the listener’s mind-of a picture.

It is far better to have an impressionist painter’s image of a burning building, than a stack of cards with separate image criteria-disassociated from one another, like one with a house on it, another with smoke on it, another with a fire-siren on it, and so on-if the idea to be conveyed is that of a home set ablaze.

The impressionist image is the one we get if we listen for meaning, with patience and an eye toward understanding.

The stack of flash cards is what we get if we listen only for details matching some agenda in our mind, interrupting and being subjective.

The Buddha taught that the mind was a sense organ. Most of us think of it as a thinking device. When listening, all the brain’s powers should be focused with the former in mind. If the latter is its prime function when hearing a story, the story is corrupted and the speaker is frustrated and meaning has not been reached, probably frustrating the speaker.

Krishnamurti said we need to listen without defining what we hear, and we have to listen with our whole being. I believe that if we do this, we can solve all problems and truly know one another, which is the main requirement of not only friendship, but of love.

*[One reason Westerners and East Asians have strained communication is context. Asian languages, particularly Korean and Japanese-are high context in nature. In my observation, native speakers of these languages require a contextual orientation to fully grasp the meaning of a sentence in the context of a story. They start all allegorical conversation with a short description of the topic to be discussed, much like a comedian tells you beforehand what he’s going to speak about; ‘I hate flying!’, he says, and then he does his bit on that.

Some East Asians-in my observation, say-in effect- ‘As for my mother…’ and then they talk about their mothers.

Westerners can begin a story with details. They often begin with something like, ‘the other day you said ‘….’ Then they go on about what was said, with the listener following along to find the true topic, meaning, or point. This poses no problem for Westerners.

I am aware that high-context language speakers can talk this way too, and that when they speak English as a Second Language, that fact (non-native speech) poses an added dimension of difficulty in cognitive processing of English, but I have experienced this issue with speakers who are quite proficient in English.

In my experience, East Asians who do speak good English often betray a problem that reveals this disparity in communication and meaning-processing when a Westerner speaking English carefully and clearly delineates to them a point without mention of the topic, and they say ‘What’s your point?’ when he’s finished (or by interruption), when the point should be very easily inferable.]

© Copyright Carl Atteniese Jr., All Rights Reserved.

82-(10) 5247-5712

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Carl is a Tokyo-based Writer, Artist, Videographer and Voice Actor from New York interested in Japanese, Ukiyo-e, philosophy and aerospace. For more about him, see his About pages.

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