Listening: Have we unlearned what makes us human?

Listening: Have we unlearned what makes us human?

There is a listener in Hamburg. Christoph Busch is his name. He loves people’s stories and has recently opened a kiosk at an underground station with the sole purpose of listening to people. What exactly does this have to do with the blog’s title ‘Listening: Have we unlearned what makes us human?’

His listening kiosk has attracted quite a lot of interest, as the people stumbling across it seem to grab the opportunity with both hands. You never know when you’ll meet one of those again. After all, Christoph Busch is the only listener in Germany!

Listening seems to have grown into an artform. It demands time, headspace and of course interest in your opposite number. Chrisoph Busch has said in interviews that he is no “professional” listener and I wonder what that actually means…..?

Coaches and psychologists learn a technique called “active listening”. Looking back at my material on this topic I found that the aim of this technique is to “create empathy, minimise misunderstandings, support the thought process and strengthen the relationship between the narrator and the listener.” A powerful technique indeed.

But exactly how does it work? Studying diverse manuals one ought to take time, keep eye contact with the narrator, keep listening without meandering thought and take in your opposite number with all your senses. To achieve this as part of the conversation, five different methods are proposed: paraphrasing, summarising, focus distillation and hypotheses formulation.

So far so good. But somehow this sounds…well…just like listening. One person to another. Without judgement. Without smartphone. Without multitasking.

How far have we come when a simple activity such as just listening has to be taught and learned? Have we forgotten what makes us human? Forgotten to be empathetic towards others?

And of course there is another side to this: the understanding of what is being said. According to Schulz von Thun’s four ear principle, our understanding of what is being said depends on which of the four ears we are listening with. He distinguishes between a factual ear (which information is being communicated), a relationship ear (how do I relate to a person), a call-to-action ear (what should be achieved as a result of the communication) and a ‘self’ ear (what do I communicate about myself).

When we listen actively, we do not interpret anything into what is being said. Instead we support the narrator in their quest to crystallise the essence of their story. Quite a challenge as our tendency is always to listen with one of the four ears.

Listening, truly listing, is an art. But it is not an art reserved for coaches and psychologists alone. Listening (and understanding) is a fundamental part of our human interactions. Because listening leads to reflections and to new, sometimes unexpected, ways of doing things.

Let us all become listeners. Let us listen to each other with honest interest in what is being said. You never know what we might end up learning in the process …