Wednesday 9 December 2009

A Lesson in Listening

I came across this article today about the work of the humanist psychologist Carl Rogers and this quote resonated deeply:

“I have found it of enormous value when I can permit myself to understand another person.

Our first reaction to most of the statements which we hear from other people is an immediate evaluation, or judgment, rather than an understanding of it. … Very rarely do we permit ourselves to understand precisely what the meaning of the statement is to him. I believe this is because understanding is risky.

If I let myself really understand another person, I might be changed by that understanding. And we all fear change. So as I say, it is not an easy thing to permit oneself to understand an individual, to enter thoroughly and completely and empathically into his frame of reference. It is also a rare thing.”

It made me think about how when we profess to be listening to someone, we are really just waiting for them to stop talking so that we can respond straight away. The more fast-paced our lives become, the more we behave this way, especially as we value more and more those who can speak quickly and respond quickly, regardless of the depth and sense of what they are saying.

It made me think about how carefully I listen to my children and how well I pick up on what they are really trying to say. It takes some time for children to become articulate enough to say exactly what is bothering them or what they want. Most of us never learn to say what it is we need – how many sisters can recall ever saying to someone: “I just need to be held for a while” or “I just need some reassurance right now”? I think probably many of us at many times, but when do we have the words to say it and how often do we feel like someone is listening carefully enough to pick up on what we need? Turning this on its head how carefully are we listening to what our parents, spouses and children say, our friends and sisters, and how well are we gauging what lies behind those words and what they really need from us. I know I have been guilty of saying to my children: “not now, I’m busy” or “not listening, you should have been in bed an hour ago!”

Insh’Allah, I will promise myself to listen more carefully to what my family, friends and colleagues say. This doesn’t come naturally to me and it is not like me to be patient, but I do think if I even try to listen more carefully to what people say, it will benefit me more than anyone else.

Rasulullah (SAW) always gave a person he spoke with full attention. So if someone addressed him he wouldn't talk to them over his shoulder or be distracted with something else. He would turn his entire body to face them and listen and speak (Shamaail Tirmizi Pg.22/23).


  1. MashaAllah, I have just come across your blog for the very first time and am most impressed! What I have just read certainly rang a bell here! Thank you for sharing that - now to fathom how to link back to you to share it with others ;-/

    Jazakum Allahu khairan.

  2. Thank you for such a good reminder. InshaAllah I shall embark on this journey with you and try to be a better listener, starting with my children and my husband.May Allah azza wa jal bless this for us. Ameen


  3. Assalam-alaikam,

    Sister, jazak'Allah-khairun for your kind comments, you are very welcome.

    Sister Umm Layth,
    Ameen to your dua.