"Pure Listening" Is Hard to Practice

"Pure Listening" Is Hard to Practice

Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D

"Pure listening" means to receive a message exactly as it is communicated by the other person. It should be totally unadulterated and uncontaminated by our own prejudices, fears, expectations and anticipations. Pure listening is extremely hard to practice because it requires the highest level of self-discipline and emotional maturity.

We have an invisible "filter" that separates us from the rest of the world. Everything that we see and hear must pass through that filter, which can become a problem in intimate relationships.

We tend to develop a sort of delusion about our partners that we "know" what they are going to say before they say it!

Iraq's deposed dictator killed many of his close associates because of his delusion that he knew they intend to harm him even before they themselves knew of having such an intention! As a result many innocent people were accused of intentions they never had.

We often become overconfident of the assumptions we make regarding our partners. Intimate knowledge of your partner is an asset but false knowledge is a serious liability.

Sometimes we don't accurately and clearly hear our partners because we know what they were really saying and other times because of what we expect them to say.

Wayne Dyer, motivational speaker and author of international fame once said something to the effect that we eagerly look for reasons to be offended. It seems so true of partners living in conflict and painful memories of the past rather than the words and actions of the present. They "make" themselves offended even when their partner carefully chooses words to not offend. Then it's the turn of the other partner to return the favors.

Pain and conflict in an intimate relationship is sometime self-perpetuating. A partner in such a relationship might not do anything to provoke the other. Still the other partner is inflamed sensing a veiled threat or insult. Their communication gets "loaded" with misjudgments and speculated meanings. As a result the relationship becomes truly embittered.

For example, a wife, after a visit to her brother, tells her husband about the luxurious condo on the beach he lives in and the recent promotion he received. The husband reads into it that she is taunting him about his low pay job and his inability to provide a better home.

In another example, a husband reminisces about the food his mother would cook for him before he left for college, and the wife hears into it criticism of her cooking.

In still another example, one partner talks about a friend's happy marriage, and the other feels that he or she is being compared and put down.

Couples illustrated in the above examples, can't talk about anything without offending each other. So they stop talking to each other to actually avoid arguing and fighting. Then each partner is offended by the silence of the other and sees it as "cold treatment," to punish him or her.

For pure listening, you must suspend all judgment, prejudices, expectations, memories, preconceived notions and your psychopathology including your insecurities, fears and low self-esteem. These create a resistance to listening and receiving accurate and undistorted communication from others.

With an open and receptive mind, we can really listen to what the other person is saying. Otherwise, as J. Krishnamurti in First and Last Freedom says, "…we really listen to our own noise, our own sound, not to what is being said."

Most courses taught on communication often talk about the technical aspects of communications such as body language, speech, voice and meta-communication. But communication is not merely a technique; it is a medium to relate to other people. It is determined by your level of emotional maturity and the quality of relationship you have with the other person.

We can't develop a deeper understanding of another person by merely mastering vocabulary and the reading of body language. Communication in intimate relationships goes deeper than that. It goes to the heart of self-understanding and love and compassion for the other. We can refer to these two components as the "right understanding" and the "right emotions."

You can really listen to your partner by really understanding your own self. Self-understanding permits us to separate that which belongs to our own mind stuff from what is being communicated by the other person.

Such emotions as acceptance, respect, empathy, love, compassion and concern for the communicator help to minimize the distortions created by one's own mind stuff.

Empathy helps us to understand what the other person is trying to express about himself or herself. Even if you had profound knowledge of human psychology, you'd be looking at a person from the outside; but with empathy, you can know the person as if you are inside the skin of that person.

Return to Self Help 

Copyright 2003, Mind Publications 
Posted June 2003


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