The art of listening

Most of us are fortunate to be born with the power of speech. Therefore, we can communicate easily with others. But the art of attentive listening takes many years of skilled training and practice.

Often someone says to us, “I have a problem at work or with my spouse or children.” Then, our first impulsive reply to them is: “We all have problems.” We are, by nature, afraid of getting involved with another’s life.

The skilled counsellor, on the other hand, will say “Is that so? Would you care to share your problem with me? Perhaps, I can make some suggestions that will help you cope.”

The counsellor, who has been trained in active listening, is willing to lend an empathetic ear to others and their difficulties. Of course, all problems seem serious to those who believe they have a problem.

It is by sharing the problem with an empathetic listener that the problem-bearer gets relief. According to a proverb, ‘A problem shared is a problem halved’. What is it that makes the person who has a problem reluctant to share?

It may be pride or fear of being ridiculed or that the listener will refer them to a psychiatrist. In reality, very few people - apart from those with mental disorders - need to visit a psychiatrist unless medication is required. In fact, many psychiatrists nowadays employ counsellors to help them segregate the patients who really need medication from those who merely need an attentive listener.

This is very obvious within family circles. There is always one of the parents to whom the children will turn to tell their problems and difficulties. They know whether it is the mother or father who has the time, energy and patience to listen to them and extend help, if help is required.

Children have an inborn instinct to turn to whichever of the parents who has the capability to help them solve their difficulties. As so many couples go out to work in the modern world, it may be the father, rather than the mother, “who is always there for the children” to be present when the need is urgent is all that is required.

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