COMMENTARY: Listening – A Vital Dimension of Respect

We demonstrate the virtue of respect for others by being courteous and civil and treating everyone in a manner that acknowledges and honors basic human dignity.

An important but often neglected aspect of respect is listening to what others say. Respectful listening is more than hearing. It requires us to consider what’s being said. That’s hard when we’ve heard it before, aren’t interested, or don’t think much of the person talking. It’s even worse when we act like we’re listening but are just waiting for our turn to speak.

The fact is, most of us don’t listen well, certainly not all the time, and especially withthose closest to us. Kids are especially adept at tuning out their parents, but parents are equally skilled at ignoring or dismissing as foolish or irrelevant what kids have to say.

The disrespect of not listening is most apparent when others ignore or patronize us (rolling their eyes in a show of impatience or contempt or faking interest with a vacant stare or wandering eyes).

We all want to know that what we say and think matters. But if we want others to care about what we say, we need to care about what they say. Like all the important virtues, we teach respect best by demonstrating it. So listen up! It’ll make people feel better, and you may learn something.

This is Michael Josephson reminding you that character counts.

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Comments 4

  1. Dear Mr Josephson,

    Thank you very much for sharing these highly elevating thoughts, as always!

    Your humble servant,

    Radhakrishnan

  2. Respectful listening is important and challenging especially in today’s world with so many people glued to their mobile phones, texting and surfing the web almost nonstop and when you try to talk to them, they resent you askng them to put their phones down and listen. I am concerned what the impact will be with the new generation and parents using their cell phones to entertain toddlers by showing them videos during meal time, driving in the cars, etc. How will children learn to listen and engage with their parents and other humans if their primary source of engagement is a small hand held device that provides never ending entertanment, amusement, and distraction from the real world. Respectful listening requires human interaction and unlike the technology that only requires one to watch and hear.

  3. Thank you.

    I have work on introducing virtues to soccer (football), and what can be learned through the game. Your words on practicing RESPECT are most valuable. I continue to learn.

  4. Michael,
    Your article was a wonderfully insightful reminder to hone our listening skills and habits.
    As Ethics students, our class is currently learning about the Dialogical Perspectives as a measure of communication ethics. I found your point to be particularly relevant to our lesson this week. As our textbook underscores, “Communication researchers remind us that human communication is not a one-way transmission, but a two-way dialogic transaction.” (Richard L. Johannesen, 2008) The key to dialogue is for both parties to understand each other through sharing and listening. It is respectful to truly listen; instead of just hear, infer, minimize or gloss over another’s perspective. It affords dignity and value to the speaker.
    I attribute the decline of our listening abilities to our extremely busy lives, the constant digital competition, and waning conversational prowess. We are fed a steady diet of sound bites. As a consequence of this, we tend to hold our conversations in the same manner. We “talk over” each other and rush to get to the point; while our true goal is to understand the other person. I think all is not lost! We can practice our listening skills, remain mindful of their importance in our dialogues and improve.
    I plan to heed your advice to “listen up.” Thank you for the reminder!
    Ann

    Richard L. Johannesen, K. S. (2008). Ethics in Human Communication (6th Edition ed.). Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press, Inc.

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