Erich Fromm, an influential psychologist and philosopher (1900-1980), conducted a seminar on The Art of Listening which was adapted into a book after his death. Fromm outlines six “rules,” or guidelines, to becoming skilled in this practice.
- The basic rule for practicing this art is the complete concentration of the listener.
- Nothing of importance must be on his mind, he must be optimally free from anxiety as well as from greed.
- He must possess a freely working imagination which is sufficiently concrete to be expressed in words.
- He must be endowed with a capacity for empathy with another person and strong enough to feel the experience of the other as if it were his own.
- The condition for such empathy is a crucial facet of the capacity for love. To understand another means to love him—not in the erotic sense but in the sense of reaching out to him and of overcoming the fear of losing oneself.
- Understanding and loving are inseparable. If they are separate, it is a cerebral process and the door to essential understanding remains closed.
Even though I often receive feedback that I am a very good listener, I can clearly do some work in this area. This week, I will be paying attention to number 1 and 2.
- I will bring a clear intention to each conversation to be attentive to the other person’s words and work to understand his or her meaning.
- Each day brings its different anxieties, small and/or large—I will look to put hem aside. I don’t perceive myself as a “greedy” person, but I can watch for when a financial desire is in the background of my reactions.
To make progress, I think there will be at least three keys: clear intention, self-observation and reflection, and a strong commitment and connection to the impact of listening more fully. By the way, practice at home has tremendous value!