When You Open Your Ears, Your Mind Opens

In order to communicate well, you need to listen. People like someone who listens to them more than someone who speaks well.


Everything has its partner: teachers and students, patients and doctors, sellers and buyers, and leaders and followers. The same is true for conversations—speakers and listeners.

A conversation consists of speaking and listening; a speaker and a listener exchange words with each other, which is called communication. However, most people misunderstand that a communication centers on speaking and pay less attention to listening. A unilateral speaking is not a conversation, but a declaration or a push.

If you don’t listen to the other person but only pour out your words, you may feel good for the moment, but you will eventually lose communication with the people around you. If you don’t pay attention to the other person or are distracted, the speaker may get discouraged and feel offended at the thought you are ignoring him. If the person goes through such an experience several times, he will no longer want to talk to you.

“We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.”

As the Talmud teaches, what is needed for sincere communication is listening attentively, not eloquence. Listening attentively means listening to the other and understanding his intention and desire hidden in the words. When you pay careful attention to others, you can communicate well and develop close relationships with them.

Positive effect of careful listening

It is said that careful listening is the best wisdom that wins the hearts of people. Everyone desires to be recognized. When you convey your thoughts and feelings through words, if the other person agrees with you, you feel that you have won his understanding and recognition. It is natural to open up to those who respond favorably to your stories. The counterpart in a conversation will trust you more when you listen to him, than when you speak fluently.

Sometimes, listening itself can resolve the speaker’s concerns and conflicts. When people with illness of the mind visit psychiatric clinics, psychotherapists focus on listening to their stories, opening both ears. The reason psychotherapists concentrate on listening rather than speaking is that sincere listening is more effective in treatment than giving special advice or solutions. There was a case of a man who was trying to take his own life but finally saved it as a police officer had helped him open up by actively listening to him.

The importance of listening is also found in the works of King Sejong the Great. The king regarded listening to others as the basic virtue of a leader, so he opened his ears and listened to the voices of his people, directly checking their appeals from all over the country and having meetings with low-ranking officials. Before establishing a tax system, he conducted a large-scale poll to read the mind of his people. As a result, he made outstanding achievements in various fields such as science and music, not to mention the creation of Hangeul [Korean alphabet], and he remains as a good and wise king who led a reign of peace.

If you listen to others attentively, it not only benefits others but also lets you grow into a better person. There is a great difference between a person who regards parents’ words as nagging and a person who takes them as advice from their experiences. When you pay attention to the words of a child, you’ll find something to learn even from them. You may think it’s a waste of time to listen to others, but others’ experiences can help you in your life. In this sense, listening is a free lifelong education.

Listening is not easy

People prefer talking to listening. This is why people like those who give ear to them. When you feel good, you tend to talk much. When you express your thoughts and feelings with words, your brain works actively and you become excited.

On the contrary, listening to others can sometimes be boring and frustrating. If there is any chance, you’d want to change the flow of the story and turn it into your own. If the other person says something different from your own thoughts, you may cut in and talk against it before the other person finishes his sentence.

The Chinese character “聽” means listening. The character “聽” consists of six words: 耳 (ear), 王 (king), 十 (ten), 目 (eye), 一 (one), and 心 (mind). It means that “A listener should give ear to the speaker just like listening to the king, pay attention as if he has ten eyes, and become one mind with the speaker.” When you empathize with the speaker with your body and mind not only with your ears, then listening is made complete.

Empathy does not necessarily mean that you have the same opinion as the other’s. Even though you don’t agree with the other person’s feelings and thoughts, if you try to understand and recognize him, it is good enough. If you think that someone’s thoughts should be the same as yours, you can’t listen. The attitude of insisting that your opinion is correct, ignoring differences in generations, beliefs, knowledge, etc. is the biggest obstacle to listening.

People find it hard to listen to those who are younger or lower in rank. It’s because unknowingly they get arrogant and try to treat them with authority. In short, listening needs patience and humility. It requires practice and effort because it is not easy.

Listening attitudes

① Face each other

If you say, “Tell me. I’m listening,” watching TV or your cell phone, or doing other things, the speaker loses a will to speak. The same is true if you keep an eye on something else during conversations. Let’s listen to the other person not only with ears but also with gentle eyes. Eyes, facial expressions, and gestures can help you communicate better.

② Empty your mind

Conversations should start as a blank slate. Throw away your prejudice against the other person, an intention to change the other’s thoughts, the thought that you know more than the other, distracting thoughts, etc. When you listen with the mind, ‘I have no idea about that. Enlighten me,’ the other can speak comfortably.

③ Acknowledge the other person

The question, “Are you listening to the other person?” is the same as the question, “Do you acknowledge him?” Even if the other person’s thought is different from yours, don’t refute it or point it out but respect it. You can hear the true heart when you recognize and respect the other person as a complete human being.

④ Listen to the end without interrupting

Even before the other person is done talking, you may scold him, “That’s not the way you should do it,” and suggest a solution. When something to say comes up suddenly, you cut in. This breaks the conversation. Let your thoughts flow away and focus on what the other person is saying. For a good conversation, you have to listen to the other person, biting it back.

⑤ Don’t judge

During conversations, people often guess thoughts or intentions of the other person while listing and rashly judges between right and wrong. Your experience and others’ cannot be the same. Just because the other person’s situation is similar to what you’ve gone through, doesn’t mean that you can judge it hastily as if you know everything.

⑥ Respond sincerely

The speaker constantly watches the other person’s response while talking. If you don’t respond, the speaker will be confused about whether he should stop or keep talking. When the other person talks, you should not only listen but also nod or show him that you are listening. When you respond actively, the speaker can feel that you two understand each other.

When you listen to others, listen attentively. When you talk, keep in mind that you need to be careful not to make the other feel offended or hurt. No one wants to hear negative words, harsh words, or self-assertive words.

It is said, “It takes two years to learn to speak and sixty to learn to keep quiet.” Confucius also said, “At sixty, I heard them with docile ear.” So, listening to others is a skill that needs to be trained constantly and learned in a lifetime.

For a better life, we ought to be always ready to listen to our family members. Listening adds happiness to married couples, pleases parents, and makes children straighten their shoulders. Listening to your loved ones is a warm message that says, “You are precious to me.”