‘The reason we have two ears and only one mouth is that we may
listen the more and talk the less.’
D I O G E N E S
Listening to a friend who is going through a divorce, has suffered a bereavement, or lost their job, is the most generous part of a friendship. It is generous because by listening, and listening again, and listening some more, you are stifling one of the keenest of human instincts, the need to respond. This is crucial. Listening is not about waiting to say your bit next. Listening is realising that nothing you can possibly say at that moment could help as much as allowing the other person to unburden themselves. You may or may not be asked for an opinion at some point in the crisis but, for now, listening is what you must do.
There is a skill in listening that goes beyond the ability to remember later each tiny wail and moan for future reference (although this is important). Stay focused, and nod and shake your head at appropriate moments – never let your eyes glaze over. Concentrate on what is being said and maintain eye contact; listening while flicking through a magazine or texting home to say you’re going to be late, is obviously not good enough. Beyond an immediate crisis, listening attentively will serve you well in other fields. Listening to the grapevine at work, listening when your child actually confides something important to you, listening as your aged parent casually mentions a trip to the doctor – listening properly can often tell you far more than you merely hear.