There is a famous Ram Dass quote that goes;
He was a big believer that we can learn something from everyone that we cross in our lives.
The art of listening is something that has been touted in business and self development circles for decades. People have written countless articles about the importance of listening. Books have been written about “active listening” as a means of becoming a better communicator.
Indeed there is much that can be gleaned from these articles and books. Hearing someone is not necessarily the same as listening well. So many times we go into conversations with an agenda to get our own point across. We often have such a desire to be heard ourselves that we forget to properly listen to what the other person is communicating to us.
How often have you found yourself trying to finish the sentence of what the other person is trying to say?… Or trying to fill in the gaps of silence as quickly as possible?
We often think we understand exactly what the other is communicating; but most of the time it is much more nuanced than that.
Also, just because you are quiet and let someone else do most of the talking in the conversation, does not mean you are a good listener.
I found myself in this position many times, but was so often looking to jump in and respond based on what I wanted to say next.
From my years working in business consulting we were always taught to actively listen to clients. We were then taught to paraphrase what we had just heard and communicate it back to the client. This was all in an effort to ensure they felt heard and to clarify that we had understood them correctly.
Another tool we were taught to use was clarification questions. Questions along the lines of;
“Are you saying that _______”, and “Correct me if I am wrong but what I heard you say was ______”.
Again, these can be useful in a business context when working with clients and seeking clarity on project requirements. However, I don’t think this is the type of listening Ram Dass was talking about when he stated that “When you know how to listen, everybody is the guru.”
So what did he mean?
Whether we are aware of it or not, there is so much that can be learned from casual daily conversations. Even the most casual of conversations are layered with nuance and meaning. We have to be able to cut through the film that separates what we think is being said and what is actually being communicated to us.
Language and words are often such a limited tool for expressing to another our experience in a certain domain. However, it is often the best tool that we have to do so.
I have found myself so often not being able to put into words the essence of a particular experience. But we must try our best. We must use the limited tool of language to try and express that which can only be experienced.
I think that is the core of what Ram Dass was alluding to. Once we know and understand that the totality of that which we experience can never be captured by words and language alone; we can then seek to truly listen to the underlying essence of what is being communicated to us by another.
What is being communicated to is always relevant to you and your experience at that point in time. It is simply a matter of listening for that essence and the rest will take care of itself.