How Can We Become Better Listeners?

Listening to others is hard. If someone else says something you don’t agree with, the overwhelming impulse is not to listen, but to explain why you disagree.

But that impulse is not always correct. Often, you have to hear why someone believes something before you can try and change their mind. And that means it is important to listen to what they have to say, no matter how wrong-headed or incorrect you might think they are.

As a society, we are currently divided into two (or more) isolated camps. I often hear that we don’t talk to each other, but I think the problem is really that we don’t listen to each other.

Beyond our political or social climate, studies in management show that to make an effective team, the members of that team need to feel that they are heard. To get team investment in a particular strategy or course of action, all team members need to feel they have a stake in setting that course.

Even when arguing with a spouse or a romantic partner, it’s possible to hear the words, but to miss the underlying message that is causing the disagreement.

In each of these cases, listening to others is important. And yet it is a difficult skill to learn, to really listen to what others have to say. It seems like it should be easy to do — after all, we all know how much we want to be heard ourselves, so why do we find it so hard to allow others to feel like they are heard?

I think that maybe it is because we feel no one listens to us that makes us bad listeners. If I feel that the person I am talking to isn’t listening to me, then my effort is on making them hear me, not on hearing them.

So how can we break this cycle? How can we listen to someone else, and let them know that what they have to say is heard, so that they in turn can be willing to hear what we have to say? What are the tools that allow us to do that? How can we sort through the extraneous information, like insults or unnecessary detail, to really hear what is at the core of another’s message?

How can we become better listeners?

Related questions: What are our responsibilities to others? What is necessary to change your mind? What do we have in common? How can we encourage debate?

How Can We Appreciate Life More?

After last week’s question addressed death, this week we want to ask about the reverse: how to get the most out of our lives. A key part of being happy is to appreciate the pleasures and the joys of life.

In one respect, this should be easy, since there is so much of which to be appreciative. We live in a golden age, with greater knowledge about ourselves, about the universe, and about the world than we have ever had, as well as having increased ease of access to that information. In addition, we can travel just about anywhere in the world we might want to go, and food and goods from anywhere in the world can be delivered to our doorstep.

While money is important to be able to access these and other benefits of our society and income inequality continues to increase, it’s also true that more people across the world have been lifted out of poverty than at any time in human history.

On the other hand, it’s hard to appreciate what we have when we see all that we don’t. It is human nature to be constantly trying to improve our circumstance in the world, and that means identifying life’s deficiencies and striving to overcome them.

On top of that, it seems like we are surrounded with negativity. The ever-increasingly interconnected world means problems from other places take on greater significance at home. If news coverage is always focused on the problems of the country or the world, from natural disasters to war and political unrest, it can be very difficult to be optimistic about your life.

And yet, it is important for our own mental health, as individuals as well as collectively as a society, that we appreciate what we have. How can we do that, without losing sight of those less fortunate? How can we appreciate what we have without feeling guilty when there are people who don’t have what we have? How can we overcome the negative environment that surrounds us?

How can we appreciate life more? How can we focus on what we have and not on what we don’t?

Related questions: Is happiness the most important purpose in life?What is the purpose of money?How can we maintain wonder?What does it mean to be thankful?What was the best time in your life?