What does it mean to listen?
How do you know when someone is listening to you? Or when you are listening to someone else?
There seems to be a distinction between simply hearing someone and actually listening to what they are saying. When it comes to communication, we know that there is so much more to it that just what words a person uses. Non-verbal communication—body language, facial expressions, tone of voice–impacts our understanding of a message far more than the verbal. But even beyond that is the impact that our relationships have on our communication.
Think about it for a minute. Do phrases and words mean different things when they come from different people? When a family member tells you that they care about you, it has a different impact than when it comes from an acquaintance. Not because the words are different or because either person is insincere, but because the relationship is different. Relationships bring a history to communication that influences it in all kinds of ways; inside jokes, memories, references all lend weight to our communication and help us understand what the other person is actually saying.
But even with all of that, miscommunication and misunderstandings still happen all the time. And why? Simply put, we tend to let ourselves get in the way. We all have the tendency sometimes to try and read into what another person is saying; we look for subtext or we project our own thoughts and feelings into their words which may or may not have anything to do with what the other person is saying. Other times we are too busy responding to consider what is actually being said. We can get angry or hurt and allow our emotional reaction to override everything else, including the possibility that the other person might have misspoken.
Communication is often a messy process because people do not always have the right words in the moment to convey what they mean. Add in all of the other non-verbal and relational factors and we have the perfect opportunity to completely and utterly misunderstand each other. So, what does it mean to listen except to willingly put aside one’s own instinctual reactions in order to
understand what another person is trying to say?