In my work as a doctor, listening and speaking are two communication skills I practice daily and which I have to be good at, in order to be effective in my job. However, I consider the act of listening to be more important. If I do not listen and understand the problems of my clients, I certainly would not be able to provide the right remedy.
The act of listening should go beyond the consulting room. In fact it should be a guiding principle in our relationship with other people. Listening is far more important than speaking. When you listen, you know whether you should even bother to speak or when to speak or to just keep quiet.
I hold this opinion, not because I abhor speaking, rather I view words, like a knife which you can use to do good work in the kitchen or you can use as a weapon to do harm knowingly or unknowingly. Many times we have said things we later regret, because it has created acrimony between us and other people, leading to dispute, rancor and bitterness. All of which are harmful to our health and well being. Studies have shown that good relationships keep us happier and healthier, and living in the means of conflict is really bad for our health. This is quoting the words of a famous American psychiatrist, Robert Waldinger.
Listening on the other hand is the tool through which we can understand other people, hear their view point and know the right words to say. Listening helps us to build good relationships. It doesn’t mean we agree with what the other person is saying but we appreciate the nature of the person’s point of view. At a time of distress, there is nothing more satisfying than knowing that you’ve been understood by the people around you, at least those you care for, your spouse, friends and children and that you can count on their support. Then consider the other scenario, when you are misunderstood, or nobody wants to listen to you. Falsehood or misinterpretation becomes the public or office gossip, and instead of listening everybody wants to give you a lecture, or tell you what to do. Of course you also react by refusing to listen. So where does that lead to, frustration and resentment.
Listening on the other hand, leads to dialogue and understanding, which helps us to build good relationships, which leads to happiness, and may translate to good health. Studies have shown a correlation between happiness and lower heart rate and blood pressure, and lower incidence of heart attack.
Listening helps us to love, because you can only love what you know and you get to know someone by listening to the person. Love leads to good and caring relationships, whereas a wrong word at the wrong time can destroy all we have built.
Listening is a tool for learning, while speaking is a tool that shows off what we already know. A wise man (Dalai Lama) describes it as thus, when you talk you are only repeating what you know; but when you listen, you may learn something new.
So I encourage all of us, including this writer, to develop our listening skills. It is the key to a happy long lasting relationship, to well being and wisdom.