Art of listening

The Art of Listening

A customer walked into McDonald’s and said, “One large fries to go, please!”

” Would you like fries with that?” John, the customer service guy, gave a quick automatic response.

“I just asked for fries only.”

“Oh, sorry about that. Would you like to upgrade?”

“But, I already ordered large fries.”

“Of course! Dine in or take-away…?”

The customer looked askance.

I find this incident funny every time I recall it. However, this story underscores something profound in the present age. Transactions happening in milliseconds, be that loading a webpage, response from ATM machines, text messages, responding to emails, staying in touch using your smart phones, have made a somewhat adverse impact on human concentration and patience.

As soon as an email hits your inbox, it is sealed with the expectation of getting a prompt response back. Plus, if the sender knows you have a blackberry, you are expected to respond back in seconds. Technological advances are not bad, they may perhaps even be necessary. They certainly do have a great upside. But, they have also robbed us off our time, time to think, time to contemplate, to cogitate, to plan. They do not give one the time to listen.

This is what I intend to cover briefly today — listening. It seems most are talking, some are hearing but only very few are listening. Listening is an art. It is easy to listen to the subject matter when you are interested in the topic. But sometimes, for example, at work, it can be a great deal more important to listen attentively even when you are not interested in the subject matter. Your performance, your decisions, your job may well depend on it.

Many people are just waiting for the speaker to finish her part so they can begin theirs. They are not actually listening, they are simply pretending they are. Good listening requires concentration. So, are you a good listener? Here is a little exercise for you to help you see where you stand, follow the steps below:

1. Put on your earphones and turn on your mp3 player.

2. Play your favorite song, ideally below five minutes in length.

3. Listen to every single word in the song, every single beat in the music.

Did you hear every word or did you find yourself wandering off into your world of thoughts after the first few lines? An overwhelming majority is unable to fully listen to a song of even three minutes.

Try the above again, promising yourself that you will listen to the whole song no matter what, that, for the whole time you will focus your attention undividedly on the song and nothing else.

Interestingly, you will find that even after your determined resolve, your mind still wanders off. However, with practice one can become an excellent listener. Those who are good at listening are often good at managing relationships, both personal and professional.

Yogic texts lay great importance on mastering the skill of listening. A while ago I wrote a post on the subject, you may want to read it.

An apt anecdote comes to my mind to end this article:

A man approached Buddha once and said, “I want to become wise. Please tell me how do I operate better in the world? What do I do to not mess my relationships?”

Buddha spoke, “It is very simple. You only have to be mindful of two things: Listen attentively to others when they are talking and even more attentively to yourself when you are talking.”

If we can listen to ourselves when we are talking, what we are talking becomes clearer. And as that gets clearer, nothing we don’t want or mean to say can come out.

Om Swami is a monk living in the Himalayan foothills. An advanced yogin, well versed in the science of mantra, sacred syllables, tantra, esoteric practices, and meditation, you can visit his blog on

Photo credit: ‘Ear‘ by Big Stock


20 Responses to The Art of Listening

  1. Justin Mazza says:

    Love it Om. I notice this whenever I have a conversation with another person. Most are not listening at all and are simply waiting for you to stop talking so they can speak. Many will interrupt you mid-sentence. Listening is indeed an art-form.

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  3. Susan Gregg says:

    The art of listening is indeed becoming a lost art in society as a whole. Listening allows us to be more present in the moment and after all that is all that is real.

    I once took a workshop on active listening and it made a huge difference in my life. I love your posts.


  4. Adam says:


  5. Maverick says:

    The exercise worked for me. I never really pay much attention when someone other than me is talking. This article changed my view.

  6. ofwnurse says:

    I should make it a habit to listen more and talk less… 

  7. Silvia says:

    I thought my mind drifted sometimes after listening for a while because I was getting old!  Glad it’s not age related.  😉  Thanks, Silas!!!

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  9. Silly Quotes says:

    I like the
    way you explained about “The Art of Listening “. I
    agree totally, and couldn’t have worded it better myself. Thanks.

  10. Pete says:

    I had a similar experience at a McDonald’s recently. I placed an order and said it was “to go”. The cashier then asked me if I would like it “to stay” or “to go”. I said “to go, please”. When my order was completed, she served it to me on a tray, at which point I said I’d like it “to go”. She then said if I wanted it “to go”, I should have said so. I simply apologized for my absent-mindedness since I thought the whole experience as being rather humorous.

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  12. suman says:

    Buddha spoke, “It is very simple. You only have to be mindful of two things: Listen attentively to others when they are talking and even more attentively to yourself when you are talking.” Very true Swamiji . Listening carefully to the one who is talking is an art and a mark of respect you have for him. And listening to yourself is paramount both is silence and while taliking.
    Hare Krishna.

  13. I totally agree with your article and also like the responses – especially Justin’s and Pete’s – yes indeed, some people just wait for their turn to speak. Active listening is a skill which needs to be nurtured, developed and practised.

    The McDonalds example reminds me of many instances calling these telephone ‘helplines’ or customer ‘service’ lines (if “help” and “service” are the correct words…) and concluding the conversation along the lines of …

    Me: “Great! That’s it for today thanks.”
    Them: “Okay. Is the there anything else I can help you with?”
    Me: [thinks – did he/she listen to what I just said] … “Er, no, that’s all for today thanks…”

    etc. etc. etc.


  14. Sergio says:

    I´d like to share my point of view but first I´ve to say that english is not my language and I want to appologize for my mistakes that I might have in this text. Back to Mc Donalds cashier, I think she couldn´t be a better example, nevertheless I fully believe that these people who work in a shop say the same phrases all the time and they get used to saying them too much. Even if you walk away earlier and she didn´t notice, she´d say something alone.

    Now, since I found this topic on a book called something like how to be successful, no only I realized most of people dont listen but also they they want you to stop speaking. And all of this made me feel like I want to help myself. My question is, how do I keep on listening without forgeting it? how do I remember it when I´m not thinking about listening deeply?
    I gues, it is a matter of practice! like languages!

  15. Frances Barrone says:

    Lovely article and spot on!

  16. Don says:

    Definitely committed to becoming a better listener. Contrary to what many people would think, communication is easier and flows easier.

  17. Shirley says:

    Thank your for this insight. Listening is a life long exercise.

  18. Mark Mi Profe de inglés says:

    Very good article, voicing a timeless topic in a modern refreshing way. Thanks for taking the time to write and post it!

    There are so many people in this world, it seems, who instead of *actively listening* are in fact only *waiting for their turn to speak* (it´s clear from your writing that you, like me, know there´s a big difference between those two things).

    Merry Christmas in advance!

  19. bpn says:

    just read all the texts and listen to your …….!!!!!!

  20. Short Hair Salons says:

    Great post about The Art of Listening

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