P.S. Positivity: On Listening


Eda Akaltun

By Tara Monjazeb, Editor-in-Chief

“Listening is where love begins.”   – Fred Rogers

A 2011 study done on college students at Louisiana State University tested their empathic  abilities when presented with a controversial topic. Two students, strangers to one another, were placed in a room for a one-hour conversation. The majority of students, when asked whether they felt as though they were being listened to by the other person, marked “no.” However, when asked what value is most important to them when having a conversation, most of the answers were something along the lines of “being listened to” or “being understood” Those who said this were often also the ones that, according to the other student in the conversation, were the ones not listening. Why is it so difficult?

It seems as though the standard in most discussions is that we feel an overwhelming pleasure when we “hear the sound of our own voice.” And it makes sense, to an extent, but not because we are natural-born narcissists. Rather, the satisfaction comes from our analysis of ourselves, by understanding and becoming clearer about who we are and what we feel. There’s a reason why journal writing and speaking aloud about feelings is so beneficial – we organize our internal feelings after tangling them like frayed yarn in our complicated minds.

We unfold and expand when we are listened to. When someone laughs at a joke we make, asks us to elaborate on something we love, or comforts us when we are upset, we immediately become more confident in our feelings. It makes us feel like we matter. We no longer repress our feelings and are able to communicate better. We can feel deeply, without remorse, because we trust that we are being understood and cared about.

Though self-clarification can be achieved through speaking, we can often best end up understanding ourselves by listening to other people. Looking at the world through a different lens can widen our own. Knowing this, combined with a captivation for a conversation, creates a mutual exercise in empathy and internal understanding for both parties.

If we’re spending the majority of a conversation heated and eager, it is likely that our heads are constantly filled with things we want to say. In turn, we block off our absorbance. We no longer listen to understand, but rather to reply.  Listening is more than waiting your turn to interrupt. Knowing that you are being listened to is the most comforting, validating feeling, and it is one of the biggest factors in reducing aggression in conversation. We get upset when we are silenced.

Active and empathetic listening is a vital social skill, as demonstrated by numerous studies. The proof, however, doesn’t need to be scientific. We feel better knowing that those that we speak to acknowledge and validate our thoughts and feelings, that people care about what we have to say. That’s essentially what strong relationships are built on. It’s easy when you have something in common, but what if you don’t? Why can’t it be the same?

We hear only with our ears, but we listen with all of us. The world is constructed by the sharing of ideas. Philosophers, psychologists, doctors, writers, scientists, mathematicians – these people all made a difference because someone listened to them. There is a magnetic and wonderful power to listening. Embrace it.