“You just don’t listen!” How many times have we said these words and how often have others said them to us? The truth is that very often we don’t feel listened to when we talk. Another person tries to follow what we say, but it is clear that our words have no effect on him. He continues to have the same judgments, views and explanations as if what we said were of no value and not worth paying attention to in the least. The habit of not listening is a way of defending ourselves from what upsets or hurts us. For example, if someone tells us something true that we don’t want to openly admit, one way of defending ourselves is to keep on talking as if we hadn’t heard them. Another way of not listening is to give explanations when others tell us what we don’t want to hear. If someone tells us that we have behaved
tactlessly, for example, we respond by saying we didn’t mean it, that we did what we thought was best, and so forth. Obviously we not only failed to listen to him, we didn’t perceive how he felt about our behavior either. By failing to do so, we keep alive a disagreement or dispute that will progressively damage our relationship with him. In some situations, we don’t listen because what others are talking about seems boring or uninteresting. We make associations, think about other things, or decide what we’ll do when that person stops talking. We don’t realize that it’s important to the speaker, even if it’s something we already know. For example, someone might say something about a movie we watched together, maybe because she thinks there are parts we didn’t notice. Rather than allowing ourselves to blank out, we could say something about an aspect of the movie that would steer the conversation in a more interesting direction.

When someone tells us something that doesn’t interest us at the time, it is good to realize that she is using words to reach out to us. She is telling us something that is interesting to her because she wants us to understand and support her. If we don’t reach out to her in turn by being interested in and attentive to what she’s saying, we’re destroying a bridge which could have strengthened our relationship. Avoiding this conversation could imply indifference and a lack of empathy toward someone who doesn’t share our tastes.

Mentally escaping a conversation is not the only way we avoid listening to what someone says. Not talking and sometimes not looking at someone who’s speaking is an aggressive way of withdrawing from a conversation or separating from the group.

Someone might not even tell us they think we’re not listening to them because when they previously told us that—either directly or indirectly— we acted as if we didn’t hear them. If we pay attention, we will surely notice that something is hindering our relationship.

In such cases it’s a good idea to simply ask what happened and, when we hear the answer, not to use justifications to explain away the disagreement we’ve created.

In short, we hear but don’t always listen. Similarly, we see things but don’t always speak as if we had.
To keep silent about something reprehensible, as if indifferent to it, is like expressing implicit agreement, which is how others perceive and interpret that silence.

But it’s not always the right moment to say what we think or feel about
something that’s happening. It’s good to be attentive and choose our
comments prudently.

Depending on the situation, to criticize or openly condemn something we find reprehensible might not be the best way to express our opinion. This is especially so if no one has requested or expects our opinion— either because it’s not the right time or place for it, or because we are not called upon to judge such a situation at that particular moment.

If we want to know when to speak and the best thing to say, it’s good to learn how to listen.
Listening is not limited to paying attention solely to what others say, but also to what is being “said” by the situation, moment, environment and attitude of those present.

Listening means letting what we see and hear penetrate, and understand that our best response is the one that shows we’ve been listening.

If we don’t do this, we might give an ill-timed critique that aggravates an already difficult situation. Not listening well could lead us to make baseless critiques that neither shed light on others’ opinions nor hide
our own lack of criteria. It could also make us stick to a line of reasoning that shows we’re rejecting what others are saying.

Listening also means noticing whether those we are with will be receptive to what we might say. Sometimes we launch into a lengthy story that interests us but not others, or at least not at that moment.
Listening means paying attention when someone introduces a subject that others seem to find interesting. If a particular subject awakens mental associations in us which cause us to interrupt the speaker and talk about some trivial thing that happened to us, awakening further associations, we make it impossible for the others to return to the original subject that they were all interested in.

Listening also means listening to ourselves while we’re talking, noticing whether we’re making rigid judgments or if we are condemning others with our opinions. It means noticing if we have gone off on a tangent to the point that even we have trouble remembering what we were talking about, much less others. If this ever happened, it would be clear that we were also oblivious to the eloquent silence of those we’ve forced to listen to our ramblings.

Listening to ourselves is particularly difficult when we have the habit of talking all the time, whether invited to speak or not. We don’t give ourselves time either to think about what we are going to say or reflect on what we’ve already said, and it’s unlikely that our conversation will be interesting or instructive to anyone.

Within a broader context, listening means—at the very least—trying to understand the message conveyed by our experiences and the circumstances of our sphere of action, as well as the events that humanity experiences on a daily basis. If we receive news without responding to it, maybe we are blocking out every piece of information that could disturb us, or are being indifferent and oblivious to events if they don’t directly concern us. In these cases, responding to news goes beyond words; it means acting in a way that shows our solidarity and participation, according to circumstances. Even when we can’t help or collaborate directly, either because we aren’t trained to do so or because it’s not within our sphere of influence, we try to remain aware of all of life’s ups and downs until we have the spontaneous feeling that whatever happens anywhere in the world is also happening to us.

We could very well refer to the attitude of not listening as close-mindedness, because we deliberately obscure our understanding by refusing to recognize the meaning of the words that are spoken to us.

The exercise of listening consists in:
. Curbing the reactions that make us either reject what we hear or interrupt the speaker
. Reflecting on what we have been told
. Validating what we hear
. Responding and acting in a way that reflects this validation.
We hear and speak spontaneously. But listening does not happen spontaneously; it is an art that is good to learn. This exercise and the following descriptions are some means that help us master that art.