TED Conversations

greg dahlen

Alumnus, academy of achievement


This conversation is closed.

how to be a good listener?

I often read that it's very important to be a good listener. Any tips you have for how to be one?

If someone were a bad listener, could they still have a good life?


Closing Statement from greg dahlen

well, I believe the most helpful thing I learned is that one of my biggest impediments to listening well is having worries on my mind that I'm trying to solve whilst also trying to listen to another person talk about entirely different subjects. Thus I need to find a way to deal with these worries, and when I have, I am a better listener.

Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.

  • thumb
    Nov 18 2013: This may be an obscure analogy, but I think being a good listener is rather like being a good seer.

    When I go outside with my photographic gear, I sometimes deliberately fix only the macro lens on the camera, which forces me to look at things close-up without getting distracted by general scenes. It always ends up being very rewarding because I am forced to see intimate, interesting things that otherwise would have been missed.

    I think being a good listener is a bit like fixing an appropriate auditory 'lens' to the ears. Sometimes we need to listen to detail - other times to get the bigger picture. I guess a really good listener is someone who knows exactly the right time and context to change their auditory 'lenses'.

    I would think that bad listeners are easily distracted by their own thoughts and things going on around the person in front of them rather than the person himself, so it's possible that they could have a good life, if that's what genuinely pleases them. But if it does matter to them what other people think and do, then a bad listener can be made into a good one quite easily by forcing themselves to focus in on what is appropriate, decisively and deliberately - possibly by imagining a 'change of lens' :-) Listening well then becomes second nature after a period of practice, because one then realises after a while that other people really are genuinely interesting and will usually hold your attention without the need to force the issue.
    • thumb
      Nov 18 2013: Good point about the photography Allan....micro/macro lens being similar to listening. When I traveled a lot, I rarely took a camera, because I felt like it was a distraction from "being" fully present in the moment. It also felt like it immediately tagged me as a tourist!

      Lots of times, we want to bring back photos as memories, so with that intent, the present moment is sometimes missed. I bring the memories back in my mind and heart. Most of the time when I traveled, the person I traveled with or people in the groups took photos and sent me copies anyway!!!

      There are some FABULOUS "scenes" in our world, and the moments that are the most precious to me are the times spent with people. I DID take a camera to Nepal, and I have hundreds of photos of children.... I seemed to be especially drawn to children at that time. It's funny, because the person I traveled with took hundreds of photos of the mountains, which of course are also magnificent:>)

      Back to the idea of micro/macro lens.....
      "The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes..."
      (Marcel Proust)

      "And ears"
      • thumb
        Nov 18 2013: colleen, was your impression that people in prison might be bad listeners, this might account for some of their bad choices?
        • thumb
          Nov 18 2013: I perceived them as relatively good listeners Greg. I pretty much had their undivided attention in a locked up room with court ordered programs:>) AND I was offering some ideas without judgment.

          This has been mentioned on this thread, and I think/feel it is important to reinforce......

          There are several levels, or layers to listening.....paying attention to the other person....being genuinely interested....actually hearing (we can listen to the words, and not hear what the person is expressing on all levels....body language, etc.) assimilating the information and applying the information when applicable......
      • thumb
        Nov 18 2013: Good quote by Proust - and Colleen! Thanks ;-)

        Have you read "Proust Was a Neuroscientist" by Jonah Lehrer? - your quote reminded me of this book. It's theme is about the value of art in understanding the brain - that art habitually gets there first and that science is only now rediscovering.

        Lehrer explains this hypothesis through the work of writers, painters and composers. Proust reveaed the fallability of memory, George Eliot understood the brain's malleable plasticity, Cezanne worked out the subtleties of vision, and Virginia Woolf the mysteries of consciousness...

        It's a good read.
        • thumb
          Nov 18 2013: Not familiar with it Allan.....sounds very interesting:>)
      • thumb
        Nov 18 2013: for me, colleen, it seems most important to just listen to the words, I don't multi-task well at all, so if I have to choose one aspect of listening I guess it will be the words.

        Do you multi-task well? How do you do it?
        • thumb
          Nov 18 2013: I can multi-task at times Greg....depends on the situation. I have a policy however, to NOT multi-task when communicating with people. I prefer to be fully present when interacting with others:>)

          Being open to ALL possibilities in a communication is not "multi-tasking" to me, because the "task" is simply to be open and receiving in all possible ways.
      • thumb
        Nov 18 2013: Like you, I don't like to bound my experience by letting the camera intervene or frame the scene. What is lost then, potentially, are the things I may not have noticed that I might have seen on viewing the photo later that captured what my eye missed. Often others have been taking photos, so I benefit from theirs afterwards.

        I share your love of photographs of children. You might look online at the photographs of Steve McCurry, my favorite photographer.
        • thumb
          Nov 18 2013: Hi Fritzie, Agreed - particularly his photo of the Afghan girl with the dazzling eyes!
        • thumb
          Nov 18 2013: Steve McCurry's work is exquisite, and the Afghan girl with the dazzling eyes is amazing.....many very haunting images............

          Fritzie, the more we connect, the more I think we are like two peas in a pod....maybe Allan is another pea in our pod.....LOL:>)
      • thumb
        Nov 18 2013: colleen, what I meant by multitasking in this situation is, if I have to listen to a person talk and watch their body language, I can't do it, it feels like two tasks, or "multitasking." Therefore I make a choice that the most important thing is their words, so I just listen to their words and forgo the watching the body language. Apparently, others on this post can do both at the same time?
        • thumb
          Nov 18 2013: I think I understood what you meant Greg.....

          You perceive listening and observing body language as two separate tasks.

          I perceive the "task" to be one task involving listening with all my senses.
      • thumb
        Nov 18 2013: listening with all your senses, but if you missed their words, that would damage understanding more than if you missed their body language, or am I wrong on that?
        • thumb
          Nov 18 2013: Yes Greg....listening with all the senses. Hearing is one of our senses.....is it not?
      • thumb
        Nov 18 2013: Colleen, I agree with Proust and you. I think there are unknown worlds everywhere, if we are ready for discovering them. The fascination of adventure is great, because in this case doesn't matter at all if other people discovered them before us. New and different worlds -all the scales- are here and there, and we need to get new eyes and ears for giving a look into them. And even into ourselves, if we know how to look, we can find susprises. Other people, animals, books, music, even the streets or the country, all of them offer new perspectives to them who are so lucky for seeing. [Wow, sorry for my bad english, it's difficult for me to explain correctly.. :) Sometimes it tooks me a hard task to say just what I want to]
        • thumb
          Nov 18 2013: Well Sean.....it appears that we are ALL in good company:>)

          I agree that the fascination of adventure is great, and it is the process of discovery that is intriguing to me. If I do not listen, and pay attention in every moment, I am simply depriving my "self" of opportunity. I agree that if we know how to look, we find surprises. Even if we are simply OPEN to listening, hearing, seeing, we get surprises all the time.....everywhere......with everyone.....in every moment:>)

          Sean, you express yourself beautifully, and I appreciate your comments....thank you:>)
      • thumb
        Nov 18 2013: well, I guess the problem is I can only do one sense at a time, listening is one of the five senses, sight is a second, smell is a third, etc. I suppose watching their body language would fall under the sense of sight, right? Listening to their words under the sense of hearing? Smelling them under the sense of smell, tasting them, well, that would be cannibalism, physically feeling them under the sense of touch. I'm just wondering how people can listen with their ears at the same time as they watch with their eyes, to me that's using two senses and it's pretty hard for me. But it's not a huge issue, colleen, I'm doing okay just listening with my ears and not doing much with my other senses. I'm just curious how other people use more than one sense at one time. When I played basketball the main sense was probably eyesight, didn't employ the other senses too much.
        • thumb
          Nov 18 2013: Greg,
          Haven't you mentioned, in comments on TED that you walk a lot? Observe scenery? Hearing people? Nature sounds? I think we see and hear things often at the same time.
      • thumb
        Nov 18 2013: I suppose you're right, colleen, when you walk you might take in more than one thing at once, but each thing is a bit superficial, if for example I try to pay attention to the sound of car motors, I'm not paying as much attention to the look of the trees. But when someone talks to me, I would like to make sure I catch the ideas, and for me the best is to just listen to the words and hardly notice anything else. Which is fine and works out. It's just other people say they can multi-task, and I wonder if they really can and how it works out.

        I'm also quite impressed by people who can do two things at once. For example, is it true that Paul McCartney could play the bass and sing at the same time, that would really impress me.
        • thumb
          Nov 18 2013: Again Greg, it seems like we are talking about our individual perception of what is "multi-tasking". You apparently perceive seeing and hearing as two tasks, and I perceive them as parts of one task. In my perception, to genuinely listen, has several elements....all one task.

          Lots of musicians sing and play an instrument at the same time:>)
      • thumb
        Nov 18 2013: well, colleen, again, I'm doing okay, but it's nice to talk to you. Yeah, in theory I could see what you're saying, but in my life it doesn't work that way, in fact I'm very careful much of the time to only do one thing, for example, I turn off the radio to get dressed in the morning, or turn off the radio to do even the simplest task like wash dishes. I guess I find I can get dressed better, perhaps choose my colors and which clothes will give me the best comfort and warmth for the day, if my attention is undivided. Similarly, I like to listen to the radio when I can give it my full attention. Where would you stand on these actions?

        Well, I could strum a guitar to the rhythm of what I was singing, but if I had to pick some notes that were a different melody than what I was singing, that would be difficult.
        • thumb
          Nov 19 2013: Nice to chat with you too Greg:>)

          I usually have music in my home....background music which I may change with the mood. It is usually soft, classical instrumental, some of the tapes and CDs have nature sounds....birds, water flowing, etc., and sometimes if I am doing an energetic project, I like to listen to something more "snappy" to encourage extra energy flow. There is a speaker in the gardens too, so when I work/play in the gardens there is usually music:>)
      • thumb
        Nov 19 2013: well, if people have committed crimes, and yet they are good listeners, how would you account for their crimes?

        Well, if you enjoy the classical music, great. If you felt like running an experiment, you could turn it off for a while (at least when you're simultaneously doing other things) and see if you could do things better. For me, I really believe I could, but of course different people are different.

        Classical music is something I don't know much about. How did you get into it?
        • thumb
          Nov 19 2013: I cannot "account" for anyone's crimes Greg. I believe we can all listen to different information and make a choice to apply the information in many different ways.

          I agree...different people are different, and we all make different choices.

          I studied piano as a kid and played some classical. I'm not sure if you are "listening", because sometimes you ask the same questions when I may have already given you that information.
      • thumb
        Nov 19 2013: so basically people who commit crimes are hearing the messages that you shouldn't commit a crime, but they're making the decision to commit one? Seems a bit weird?

        It would be nice if I could do several things at once and do them all just as well as if I only did one at a time. I have this funny picture of myself as an octopus, doing something different with each arm.

        Yes, now that you mention it, I believe you had told me that you played it as a kid. Well, some things probably get inscribed in the memory more powerfully than others. Sometimes it's just easier for me to ask a question again than try to go back through the melange of past TED conversations and find it. But it's interesting that classical music "took" with you, of course we've all heard it, but it didn't grab me, wonder why it did you?
        • thumb
          Nov 20 2013: Basically Greg, I do not know for sure, and I do not speculate regarding what information people hear and apply to the life adventure. Unless a person gives me that information about him/herself, there is no way I can KNOW for sure what is going on in the heart and mind of another person. There are many people who are brought up in a life of crime, and they may not know how to function in a different way.

          There are people who have been exposed to one kind of music or another and either like and accept it or not. I like most kinds of music:>)
    • thumb
      Nov 18 2013: well, when I'm listening well, not all that often, I think I just go "blank," there's no "me," I'm only hearing the person's words. Maybe when it's my turn to speak, I might go macro or micro.

      I seem to listen better to people on TV or radio than live people like friends or family. Is this because they're better speakers, or I don't have an obligation to speak, or I don't have as many topics between them and me as with family or friends?

      I would think being a bad listener means a bad life, as life is complex and you need much information to get through which you acquire by listening. Could it be that people in prison are bad listeners?

      Love your closing statement, must remember others are interesting and want to be heard.

Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.