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The Art of Listening

“Instead of listening with one ear, as I sometimes do when faced with life’s deadlines, with multitasking, I used both ears. Real listening is prayer.” ~William Powers

During college I was a horrible listener. I was quick to interrupt people and tell them all about my political views and how they needed to change the world. But that started to change after I left the investment management industry. I went back to school and began volunteering at a local rape crisis center. I took a number of classes and became a victim advocate. It wasn’t until I took these courses and started volunteering on the crisis line, that I learned about the art of listening.

Listening isn’t a hard skill to master. But many of us don’t do it very well. It’s never too late to relearn this valuable skill! 🙂

When you’re talking to a friend or family member, pay attention, don’t interrupt, and remove all distractions (like your smart phone). By practicing active listening you can learn more about the world around you and better understand your friends and family members.

With Thanksgiving and Christmas right around the corner, I think we all need to remember the importance of listening to each other. During the hectic organizing of events, preparation of food, and coordination of gifts we forget that holidays are really about bringing people together.

Rather than getting stressed out about about cooking and family visits, the upcoming holiday is the perfect opportunity to practice the art of listening. Listening is a key component of nurturing strong relationships. And building long-lasting relationships is the foundation of happiness. If you don’t listen to those in your life, relationships become weak and you’ll become unhappy.

If you start getting stressed out this week, remember:

Listening is an act of love.

Listening is about being mindful.

Listening is an act of compassion.

Listening is an act of kindness.

Listening can make you happy.

Listening is an act of gratitude.

Listening is about paying attention. The authors of Buddha’s Brain say, “Attention is like a spot light, and what it illuminates streams into your mind and shapes your brain. Consequently, developing greater control over your attention is perhaps the single most powerful way to reshape your brain and thus your mind. You can train and strengthen your attention just like any other mental ability.”

Instead of heading to the mall on Black Friday, consider participating in the National Day of Listening. Ask your friends and family to share their favorite stories with you and really listen to what they have to say.

What is the National Day of Listening?

…The National Day of Listening is an effort to encourage Americans of all backgrounds and beliefs to interview a friend, loved one, or member of their community about their lives on the day after Thanksgiving.

Thousands of Americans have already taken part in the National Day of Listening, including families, educators, and local organizations, who have embraced the National Day of Listening as a way to incorporate StoryCorps’ interviewing techniques into their programs.

The National Day of Listening occurs every year on the day after Thanksgiving—offering a holiday alternative to Black Friday shopping sprees. If participants are unable to record an interview on the official National Day of Listening, StoryCorps encourages them to record Do-It-Yourself interviews throughout the holiday season.

Learn more about the process of interviewing a loved one, by listening to the StoryCorpos DIY video.

For more information, visit:

StoryCorps: Every Life Matters

National Day of Listening

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Kristen Sloan November 22, 2010, 9:14 am

    The national day of listening is such a cool idea! I look forward to engaging in an interview on Friday. Thanks for sharing and the great post.

  • T.C. Judd November 22, 2010, 9:25 am

    “Listening is an act of love…compassion…kindness…”

    Yes, yes, and yes! A marvelous reminder, Tammy, about the absolute necessity of REALLY connecting to others in our distraction-saturated society. We’re oftentimes too busy being ‘connected’ to really hear what those physically right in front of us have to say. I consistently run into people who are aching to have someone truly listen to them and hear what they have to say. We’ve lost a good bit of that in our drive to be always ‘on.’ It isn’t always easy to be the listener, but it is essential…as you’ve pointed out.

    Thank you!

  • Laurie November 22, 2010, 9:59 am

    Hey, you and Everett and Karol all have had sunset photos in the past couple days…are you guys channeling each other?! I love it 🙂

    And I love the National Day of Listening idea. What a fantastic alternative to the evils of Black Friday! I’m in the process of getting better at listening and giving my full attention to others, and becoming less self-absorbed. Thanks for helping me along the way!

    Have a wonderful Thanksgiving…
    Laurie in Michigan

    • Tammy November 22, 2010, 10:46 am

      LOL! That is funny. Maybe all the sunset photos are a result of so much rain?

      I’m glad you liked the post Laurie! Have a great Turkey Day!

  • Rebecca November 22, 2010, 10:33 am

    The Black Friday ritual holds no attraction for me. I think a Day of Listening is a WONDERFUL alternative!

  • Arron November 22, 2010, 11:20 am

    To listen we must first silence ourselves.

    We have to silence that to-do list running on a loop in the back of our minds, we have to stifle the urge to make ourselves heard and instead wait for our turn to contribute. Brilliant idea, Tammy! Thanks for the link.
    I will not be participating in the great shopping decathalon this weekend and instead will be simply listening to my mind, my body and my loved ones this “holiday” weekend.

  • Mark Powers November 22, 2010, 11:53 am

    What a great reminder to practice active listening! And I agree with Rebecca above . . . the Day of Listening is a much better way to spend Friday than shopping. This Thanksgiving, I’m very grateful for new, inspiring friends like yourself and Logan. Thanks, Tammy!

  • Epa November 22, 2010, 3:47 pm

    Wow! What a great link…Thank you for sharing. It makes me happy to know that there are such nice projects around 😉

  • Vanessa November 22, 2010, 5:07 pm

    I’ve definitely come to realize that I’m a seriously bad listener. Sometimes my mind wanders off to something I have to do and when I come back to the conversation at hand I have no idea what the other person was saying. Getting better at listening has been a work in progress…it’s tough changing old habits!

    On another note, I hope you have a great week away from the digital world 🙂

  • Tabita @ Simply Enough November 22, 2010, 5:28 pm

    Digital sabbaticals are the best! Enjoy your Thanksgiving and thanks for the reminder to listen.

  • Susan November 22, 2010, 7:48 pm

    I love this. I’ve been thinking about it lately, that I’m just too distracted when people are trying to talk to me. I want to be more engaged this Thanksgiving while with my family.

    I also have a friend who talks a lot. She tends to be negative, but I think she’s really just looking for validation and understanding. Last year on her birthday, I bought her a drink and decided I was going to truly listen to her. Anything she wanted to say. And it was one of the best conversations we’d had. It gave me new understanding and patience with her.

  • Peter Ahrens November 22, 2010, 8:02 pm

    I think my fiancé is a great listener. We are such opposites – I like to talk a lot and she listens. I need to learn more from her!

  • Jen November 22, 2010, 9:00 pm

    I can really identify with what you had said about being in a hurry to state your opinion when you were younger. I was terrible about that and even today still sometimes catch myself doing that. Its only when I’m having a fun conversation with someone and cant wait to tell them all about my experiences. I’ve noticed I have gotten better at putting a leash on my enthusiasm and making sure I give someone else a chance to talk too. Its no fun to talk to someone who hogs the floor. I am sooooo glad that there are people out there who have something else better to do besides shop!!!! I dont even know when that became such a big thing! I absolutely love the idea of taking the time to really listen to a loved one, I think thats way better than any gift you can buy. People so desperately want to be heard and understood. Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!!! 🙂

  • Amber November 23, 2010, 7:08 pm

    Thank you soooo much! That is wonderful and sooooo Me, right up my Alley!!!!
    I love readying your posts. You have so many ‘real’ things to say.
    Happy Thanksgiving and Happy National Day of Listening!!!

  • Daisy November 24, 2010, 4:54 am

    This is a wonderful idea, and I’m glad you are promoting it, as I would not have known about it otherwise. Previous commanders have touched on many of the things that get in the way of active listening — distractions, an inability to slow down and focus, and our own anxiousness to get to our turn to give our own opinions. I do think there’s another barrier, one that can act subtly. We’ve got to practice silencing the filters and assumptions we all have that cause us to presume to know what another will say (or mean). That one can be insidious in that we can truly listen and hear every word, but take away an unintended meaning because we’ve still injected too much of ourselves while listening. All the more reason to keep practicing!

  • Abby @ New Urban Habitat November 24, 2010, 1:28 pm

    I love this post, Tammy, and I love the idea of celebrating Black Friday as a national day of listening. I wrote about listening awhile ago and learned about John Francis. He saw two oil liners collide beneath the Golden Gate Bridge in 1972 and decided to stop riding in and driving motorized vehicles. When he told his friends and family about his decision, he got in countless arguments, and quickly tired of all the fighting. So he decided he would spend a day just being silent and listening. “So on this first day, I actually listened. And it was very sad to me, because I realized that for those many years, I had not been learning. I was 27.” He ended up spending the next 17 years not speaking and just listening. Meanwhile, he walked across the United States, got a PhD in environmental studies, and even taught university-level classes.


    Happy Thanksgiving to you!

  • Roc November 28, 2010, 11:25 am

    This is deeply inspiring – thanks for sharing! I have been wanting to to do this with my mother for years. I think now is the time. The art of listening is definitely an area I need to nurture in my own life.

  • Dee Williams November 29, 2010, 6:43 pm

    Tammy… you and your friends are brilliant. A lot of the time, i seem to find myself alone but stuck with some song or a quote, or some bit of conversation left-over from earlier in the day. Lately, i’ve been trying to listen… really listen… to what nature is telling me: go play, be kind, be generous (as in excessive with the cold blasts, rain, wind and unpredictability), be what you are. I hear that even now while i am writing this, as it is dumping on the roof enough to sound like fish thudding by the bucket full.

    Thank you and thank you for the reminders. You are my smartest clear thinking rowdy-kitten friend!