The Generosity of Listening

Much is made of the art of listening, and rightfully so. When we listen well, we give another the gift of respect. We acknowledge that they are important to us, and that we value them. We value how they think, and what they have to share.

Try Googling “be a better listener” and see what comes up: Most of the articles are about the mechanics of it, things like

  • Maintain eye contact
  • Tune out distractions
  • Learn to read body language
  • Be patient and don’t interrupt
  • Paraphrase, restate or summarize
  • Etc., etc. etc. . .

All good tips, however I think that the best advice gets buried in all these mechanics. To listen exceptionally well requires generosity; we are should be giving much more than we are receiving. Think about that for a bit.

We can listen best by giving ourselves up fully to being in the presence of another, with complete confidence that being with them will be worth every moment. So we give. We give full attention. Full acceptance. Full trust. Full generosity.

When we do that, all those mechanics fall into place by themselves, don’t they. Generosity takes care of everything else, and we can listen.

IpugPhoto Credit.


Our Ho‘ohana this month is on Lokomaika‘i, the giving and generosity “of good heart.”

The Generosity of Silence
The Generosity of Laughter
The Generosity of Delegation
The Generosity of the Huddle



  1. says

    Aloha Rosa,
    This is a timely and important message to which I would like to add a small postscript: generous, trusting listening needs us to SLOW DOWN and TAKE TIME with the other person. Giving someone our time is truly a gift that makes as much of a difference to our own life as it does to the other person’s.
    In our rushed and frantic attempts to cram more and more into the same 24 hours, we come to diminish ourselves even as we disrespect and demean others.

  2. says

    Love this post, Rosa. (And love the photo!)
    Generous listening in the Internet community is interesting to me because we can give our full and complete attention to someone through their website or blog, and yet they’ll never know it! So I’ve made a personal resolution to start commenting very actively on the blogs I read–even if it’s just a sentence or two to say “Thanks, I liked this post.” Because giving people feedback as a part of active and generous listening only takes a moment.
    So mahalo, Rosa. I really enjoyed this post!

  3. says

    Aloha EM, I’ve been thinking about the same thing recently.
    Since the first Ho’ohana posting of this month I have had another post lingering in drafts about the effect the “Generosity of Commenting” can have in our virtual communities where some of the normal listening mechanics are totally thrown out the window or reinvented. I’ve tweaked it continually, and haven’t posted it because blogging about blogging isn’t really the reason I believe people read Talking Story. Therefore up to now it has been a draft where I think to myself on it, and it may never get posted. So thank you for opening this comment door instead!
    I do think that aside from the tips and hacks type blogs, the bloggers who are most effective in building virtual communities around their blogs are those who comment generously for others. They also must respond quickly and engage with their own commenters; frankly I can’t understand why some will moan and groan about not getting comments, and then not even respond to the ones they do get! Mystique will only take you so far in this transparency-required medium, and offline connections are becoming inevitable if a blog community is to thrive. There are now so many blogs to choose from, outstanding content on a blog alone just isn’t enough.
    Like you, I have recently made my own personal commitment to return to more commenting throughout the Ho’ohana Community, for my busy-ness has dramatically interfered with the frequency I once practiced with commenting. Not only do I feel I’ve neglected some of the bloggers I love, I find that I miss it in my own spirit as well. The connectedness is something I myself thrive on and need. I MUST start to allocate my time for it.
    Much aloha,

  4. says

    Rosa, you always seem to tap into what’s swirling around in my brain – Adrian spoke of those “rushed and frantic attempts” to keep multitasking, and I’ve commented on the “disconnectedness” that happens more and more these days, especially with all of these electronic devices making noises around us. The mere act of focusing on the person in front of you, or on the phone, or on the page, is indeed an act of generosity, and also respect. It goes back to the “Golden Rule” that I recently was reminded of on Steve Farber’s blog ( – “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Thanks Rosa for this reminder, so well connected to Lokomaika‘. All the best.

  5. says

    Aloha Starbucker,
    We do seem to be connected with some things! After I read your comment just now, I thought about a couple of telephone conversations I had this afternoon.
    I came home from a morning seminar to find 6 new voicemails waiting for me. After listening to all of them, and finding that none were of immediate importance, I curbed my initial tendency to fire off some quick call returns knowing that I had another appointment coming up in 20 minutes time.
    I returned the calls after the appointment, and every single one took much longer than I would’ve given them time for earlier – and each was MUCH more satisfying – because I wasn’t rushed, and I was more open to listening completely, and generously.
    I’ve had a really terrific day.
    Mahalo nui for your comment Terry,

  6. says

    What many people don’t realize is that part of being a good communicator is about being a good listener. It’s quite a challenge nowadays because we’re in such a rush to get to where we need to go and do the things we need to do. However, what I’ve learned is that if we don’t stop and listen, we may miss out on something that could help us with those things we need to do!

  7. says

    Well said Maria; we seem to be in agreement with Adrian in that slowing down first, to focus and listen better next, is great advice.
    And your addition, that we cannot really communicate well without listening well, is indeed one of those things that are so “well yeah, duh!” obvious, that we end up being way too neglectful in our actual practice.

  8. says

    It’s been a while since I stopped by, but I saw this post and wanted to chime in. I’ve thought deeply about listening skill because it’s something that is a constant topic in conversations in business and the self-help world. I think you’ve broken through the shell of listening with your highlighting of generosity as key to the process. But I’d like to go a step further.
    Good listening is not really listening, it’s hearing. Hearing someone means understanding what is said as well as what is left out. Hearing someone is allowing them to express themselves, for that is amongst our greatest and most primal urges. Hearing someone is to be connected with the speaker, letting each other know that we’re alive.

  9. says

    Hayden your comment is interesting to me, for *listening* is more often regarded as the higher evolution of *hearing* and you present it the other way around. And the thought of allowing someone to express themselves as being a primal satisfier explains yet another facet of generosity.
    Mahalo nui for your visit today; you may not stop by often, but when you do it is always thought-provoking!