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My most recent single release - "My True North" - is now available on Bandcamp. Open my profile and click on "audio clip".

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Giving Oxygen

Recently, I listened as a friend recounted a jarring adolescent experience. After my friend finished, another listener reacted to the story with a comment that struck me as flippant, even mildly dismissive. My friend didn't outwardly appear to be put out by the comment but the scene has re-played in my head ever since.

I think it was Stephen Covey (author of "Seven Habits of Highly Effective People") who I first heard say that listening deeply to others is like giving them oxygen. When I sense someone is sharing a story about their pain, a trauma, or even adolescent discomfort, my initial instinct is to lean in. More than a few times, I've heard others ask "What good does it do another person if I sympathize with them?" Of course, the answer is it does no good at all. The past is past; pain cannot be undone.  

But that question ("What good...?) always strikes me as beside the point. A better question might be "How can it hurt me as a listener to let someone tell their story?" Good listening often requires little response; it costs nothing to be silent. And silence after someone has told their story is preferable to drawing glib conclusions, making judgments, problem solving.

What kind of listener are you? I have an old friend who I've heard tell stories of mis-treatment he endured as a young boy in school. Each time he tells it, the pain of the memory is apparent. I hope I've been a good friend by giving him the oxygen he needs.


  1. Listening might indeed be the most important of all the communication skills to have. How can you communicate if you do not know with whom you are speaking? Can I really tell what language a person speaks by looking at them and doing nothing else? No, I must listen so that I can respond to what that person is truly saying and not what I have prejudged that person to be saying before they even open their mouth. Thanks Pat you are always worth listening to.

  2. Mike; Thanks for your comment and your supportive words; hope to see more from you in the future.