58. Awareness of Others
When the pickpocket meets a saint, he sees only pockets.
Anonymous (appearing in all times and all places)
In this area we will first discuss skills that can help us understand others: listening, observing and empathy. These skills are of great value as they affect every aspect of social life. Two related topics will follow: the focus of attention and assessing others.
Listening is one of the main ways we become aware of the inner world of other people (what they want, think, feel, etc.). Listening seems straightforward but is, in fact, a sophisticated skill that can be developed by following these suggestions:
- Most importantly, really listen to others rather than using the time while they are talking to think about what to say next. If you need to think about what to say, you can take a short pause before responding. Your response will also be more meaningful if you really hear the other person first.
- It is important to acknowledge verbally or through body language (e.g. nodding) that something has been heard.
- Do not assume but check that you have understood others well by occasionally summarising or rephrasing what has been said.
- Attention is easier to maintain if you find a way to relate what the other is talking about to your own experience and interests (you are interested in stocks and shares, and somebody is talking about theatre – thought about investing in art?).
- Avoid mind reading and fortune telling (assuming that you know what the other thinks or will say respectively).
- Being open-minded also matters. This does not mean adopting the views of the other, but having the willingness to see things from their perspective (visiting does not mean staying).
- Questions can help if something is unclear but digging into what somebody is consciously or unconsciously avoiding, insisting on a disclosure, usually has the opposite effect.
- The distortions of one’s understanding are usually the result of adding something to what the other is saying. The following exercise can help you minimise this: