This June, Silvia Carbogno gathered over thirty people in Stillpoint Spaces Zürich, Klosbachstrasse 99, around the topic of « active listening ». Some already knew about the topic and others were there to learn about it. The common point of all the participants was that they were people who care about other people: mothers wishing to improve their communication with their children, workers trying to understand colleagues and professional listeners (psychologists, counsellors, communication and career consultants) looking to expand their skills.
Many media and industries encourage us to live individualistic lives based on machine dependency. They incite us to act on our own and minimize other people’s interference. They tell us that we can find all the tools we need by interacting with a virtual world through clicking on icons and typing on a keyboard. Even if it is true that to achieve our aim we can obtain help through computers and use our individuality, a lot of our actions do require other people’s involvement. For example, in the process of buying a house or when facing health issues, it is very important to take into account the advice of experts. Reading information can be helpful but we need to rely on people’s experience. Human contact, through exchange and listening, enables us to trust and believe because we can identify with our counterpart. However, we often hear of frustrating situations because we feel we haven’t been listened to or understood. Even worse, accidents and dramatic events happen because of misunderstandings.
Silvia showed us the Chinese symbol for “to listen”. It is composed of 5 parts: ear, eyes, undivided attention, heart, you. This way of writing the action of listening shows that it is fully human. Time and energy could be used accurately to accomplish actions if we listened meticulously. Byproducts of this small effort would be harmony, peace, pleasure and joy - more states and feelings that define human beings.
By observing us all sitting in the same room making sense of what Silvia was explaining, you could feel everybody’s need to improve their relationships with people they know. Participants soon raised questions and thoughts as well as experiences. Silvia gave exercises that answered this energy. We were put in situations that required us to give our full attention to a partner, who was speaking. These practice moments showed the participants that by forgetting our judgements, opinions and thoughts and dedicating our whole body to the speaker’s messages we could give the other person the means of becoming aware, understanding a situation, accepting it and finding solutions to their issues.
All of us fundamentally accomplished the task according to our own individuality, and found different obstacles while listening. For example, some had trouble not speaking and others were scared to forget information. We were all happy about good points. As we felt listened to, we shared private events. By doing so, we gave our trust to our listener. Each of us told our stories with our own choice of words, tone of voice, emotions, body language. We also listened by giving particular signs to the speaker. We had different facial expressions and when we could talk we asked questions that another person would not have thought of.
The rewards of this form of active listening, this full presence through total generosity, are a sense of empowerment and an immense gratitude from the speaker, the satisfaction of having helped someone and a sense of achievement.
During a couple of hours, we could feel the importance that others have in our lives. They have the power of enabling us to generate the best in ourselves. Thanks to them, and through active listening, we can solve problems and accomplish our dreams by reaching the deepest parts of our beings. Can a machine ever replace this, the deepest expression of our shared humanity?
Marie-Ange Pradas Ramos
Psychologist, Counsellor, Life Coach