Listen to Understand.

By Charu Vashishtha. Charu is a Senior Manager at a Life Insurance firm.

Each person in this world has created their own universe around them. We are the “sun” of our own universe. The rest are just the minor bodies revolving around us, and we have the moral obligation of enlightening these bodies.  

We are undoubtedly the most important person in our respective universes. 

Our survival instincts have ensured that we give utmost importance to our well being. However, being human we also are blessed with some beautiful and divine feelings like love, compassion, empathy and humility which sometimes do overpower our baser instincts like greed and selfishness. These baser instincts in turn feed the not so noble feelings of jealousy and hatred. 

Most of the times when our baser instincts overpower the love and compassion which lies dormant, we listen but not with the intent to understand the other person but only to provide him or her with a fitting reply. 

In this fast-running, self-serving world, in which people prefer social status over happiness, and luxury over love, why would someone try to understand what the other has to say if there is nothing in it for them? The reason they would listen someone would either be to feel important, to give inputs, or to make a point. As “suns” of our universe, we should consider it our duty to shine over and illuminate others. 

Many believe that if they do not show off their knowledge or their intelligence in a conversation, their ‘market value’ or social standing will be impacted drastically. Therefore, they listen, but with an intent to reply. 

Even as parents or guardians we are so concerned with playing our part that we deliberately or inadvertently choose not to understand what our ward expresses. We want so much to fill him or her with the experiences we have acquired (how special those experiences are!) that we forget to understand and appreciate their unique experiences or to see the world through their eyes. Also, many times, we are so full of our biases and preconceived notions that we hardly give a thought to what a person is saying but we give huge importance to who those words coming from. 

Say a person approaches me to say “hello” or simply to enquire about my wellbeing. As soon as I see him approaching me, and before the words have left his mouth, my past experiences about the person would clog my mind and I would listen to him with the intention of replying to him based on how I judge him. The words may be “hope you are doing good.” or “how have you been?” but my response will be varied. I may choose to respond with sarcasm, gratefulness, magnanimity or compassion based on my judgment of him as a person. 

Our preconceived notions block the true meaning of our conversation. In such situations, we usually miss the true intent of conversation and figure out our own skewed meaning based our conventions.  

No matter what the actual truth is, we tend to confuse what we hear with what we want to hear, for it makes things convenient for us. Our psychology interprets and clouds things we see and hear and gives us a particular perspective which suits our biases and beliefs. So that it does not threaten our acquired principles and value system.  

A person I consider stingy may come and tell me that he has suffered huge losses. I assume that he is asking for money and reply that unfortunately I don’t have any money either. Perhaps that’s not the truth. Perhaps he’s only sharing his woes and looking for compassion and advice. But the image of his seeking compassion does not suit me, because I have a different image of him in my mind, which I don’t want to change. 

If we listen, with an uncluttered mind to what others are saying, we could assimilate the words and truly understand. There are people who do just that. People, who listen to understand. They are ones who are comfortable with themselves, who feel that not only them but everyone is special and unique in their own way. They are ones, who feel that everyone, no matter where they come from are worthy of respect. They are the ones who are true seekers, true learners. They have the hunger to learn from one and all. 

A glass which is full, can only spill water if more water is added to it. The same is true for knowledge. A person who thinks he knows it all cannot learn. Only the ones who can un-fill and un-learn can learn for they are receptive to new ideas. They are ones who indeed want to understand life and people. They are not afraid to assimilate other people’s ideas into their system 

It takes courage and faith in human goodness, to be receptive to other person’s ideas. 

Imagine if people were more willing to try to understand each other. Most of the miscommunications and subsequent misunderstandings would never happen. Putting your effort and patience towards understanding someone is very rewarded, not in money, or material things, but in happiness and peace. 

Most people let go of true happiness and compassion, and communicate only to make a point and to show that they are better. Please consider that outsmarting someone may increase your market value or feed your ego but it may not make you likeable. 

Listen, and intend to understand, and the quality of your communication, relationships and life will improve drastically. For sometimes we are not looking for solutions but empathy. We want to ensure that we are not alone and there are people who love and understand us. It is when we start listening to people to understand them by being non-judgmental that the world can become a better place to live.

78 comments on “Listen to Understand.

  1. Dr. Mohan Lal on

    I read your earlier article ‘The Love of Children ‘ and true to my expectation, the bar of
    assertion is raised even further in the present article. You are right when you say ‘there are
    people who love and understand us’. It is only that we are preoccupied to notice that. The earth
    would be a better place to live if we give little space for other’s preoccupation as well while we
    listen to understand them.

    • Charu Vashishtha on

      Thank you so much for your words. Coming from you , this praise means a lot. Indeed we are all preoccupied with something or the other. Such is our mind but if we try and “understand” the other person’s preoccupation , we can form a better bond. Putting yourself in other’s shoes helps bring compassion and make us more meaningful communicators.

  2. Chintan on

    It looks as if you were talking about me only. I am in the habit of not appreciating even if the other person is putting best of the knowledge and experiences in to his or her words and used to extrapolate what little I could understand and thus end up putting my own words into his or
    her mouth. Thanks for this awakening call.


    The matter dealt is very relevant, in day to day life. If a human practice the message dealt ,the life will become peaceful and worth living. I hope at least someone will follow in real life.

    • Charu on

      Thank you !
      Indeed if we start listening to someone with a purpose to understand and empathize, life would before more uncomplicated.

  4. Ashish Vashishtha on

    As the axiom goes that you can either get inspired or disillusioned by a glib orator but you can only appreciate an ardent one. One can’t be an ardent speaker if he himself is not able to find any good in what other says. This is where most of us are lacking. Thanks for writing such an seemingly simple but an intense monograph.

  5. Radhika Garodia on

    What an eye popping article. I think this happens to everyone leave those who are really adept in the art of listening. I think with some assiduity one may master in how to listen to understand. One thing is for sure it will bring miracles in one’s life. Please keep writing such articles which help in solipsism.

    • Charu Vashishtha on

      “Solipsism”, what an interesting term. I confess I had to refer the dictionary to find out what it meant. Indeed our mind is very powerful and in it resides a city of its own. Where we paint and grab the characters the way we want to. But in order to communicate better we need to understand that each person lives in their own world , a fact we should accept and respect. Many times we need to step in other person shoes to understand them better. To understand their “World” better.

  6. Sheel on

    Good read. We subconsciously listen with an intent to reply. Our mind works that way. But if we listen with patience without hurry to reply the conversion can take a different and more meaningful route

  7. Rachit on

    By this time, I have become a fan of yours. I have almost read all your articles and stories. You seem to have a propensity in writing disquisitions on topics which are ingrained but invariably overlooked. Listening is considered to be the simplest act carried out by human being and even than you chose to emphasize as it were the singular good trait a person could possess. I can vouch from my database of sweet bitter memories, that you are right. God bless you and pray to write more on such topics.

    • Charu Vashishtha on

      Wow, Thanks for such generous praise. Listening, Watching and Speaking are our basic abilities. How we use these abilities depends on us. Lets use them to understand the world the better and be helpful to all. Rather than use these abilities as vehicles for inflating our ego.

  8. Puneet Puri on

    The key is to respect the speaker as well as the listener. It is not necessary that i would agree with everything the speaker has to say. I may differ but that i would respect the other person’s personal opinion.

  9. Amitabha Saha on

    ‘I fail to understand you’, one is likely to use this statement a million times in his life. If you were little attentive while listening you could have easily changed this statement to ‘I understand my views are different than yours’. I bet this little modification will save you the ignominy of repeating the statement many a times. But I agree this is not as simple as it looks. For this you have to keep ready all your faculties that nature has bequeathed you.I congratulate you for this yeomen service to the readers.

  10. Charu Vashishtha on

    I like your perspective. Active listening involves picking up words as well as non verbal gestures. We often mention “I fail to understand you” when if disagree with a person. Its not the same.
    We can always say “I am trying to understand you but what i think is a little different ……”

  11. Mukesh on

    Patient listening works in professional as well as personal life. People need support and understanding in order to be comfortable with themselves as well as their surroundings.

  12. Lavika on

    Sometimes being judgmental helps since same words coming out of different people mean different things. I agree though that we should listen intently give each benefit of doubt.

    • Charu Vashishtha on

      Hmm…interesting perspective. Being judgmental helps sometimes but its more like a short cut.I would still say that we should hear one out with open and uncluttered mind because doing this sets you free. While being judgmental is a lot of burden.
      Thanks for your comment.

  13. Vipul on

    Good One. Though I believe that speaking is as important as listening. And the most important thing is to have a mind that is open for other people’s opinions. It is important to be a good person the foremost.

    • Charu Vashishtha on

      Wow. Well said. Never though of it but yes everything has something to say only if we hear it. The water running down the stream, the happy sounds of a child. Everything is meaningful if we take time to notice it.

  14. Dinesh Charak on

    Again…a beautiful piece of writing…totally agree with the fact that we tend to judge people a lot as we grow up. We need to get back to our child like selves when we saw the whole world with absolute amazement and no judgement what so ever…..

  15. Jitender Bajaj on

    Absolutely. This is the need of the hour. I am amazed with your acumen to naturally bring the issue and it’s solution on the table. And it is always expressed in simple & straightforward manner.

    The examples shared like a full glass of water helped reach the conclusive statement “It is when we start listening to people to understand them by being non-judgmental that the world can become a better place to live”.

    You must keep on posting blogs Charu. These are very intense & have the power to bring a positive change in the World.

  16. Anjali Sharma on

    Another gem from you, I must say. As expected, it is thought provoking and is clear in intent. Wish it reaches out well and people learn from it!

  17. Dipali on

    What an inspirational address to a very common problem which everyone can relate to… hats of to you for such deep thought process and beautiful articulation… keep it up

  18. Bhavneet Kaur on

    Very very nice write up Charu, really appreciable. The facts you have written are so true and practical that if everyone understands it then their would be more of love, compassion and friendly relationships than hatred, jealousy and agony. Understanding others in their way can make a person stand above ego and acceptable in the society. Loved what you have written. We’ll done. Waiting for your more posts with such noble thoughts

    • Charu Vashishtha on

      Thank you for such insightful comment Bhavneet.
      Indeed if we make an attempt to understand others better we understand life and its ways better. We become more at ease with ourselves , others and life’s situations.

  19. Neha Saxena on

    Charu you rock ! Such a nice article with so many perspectives! “Listen” which sounds such a simple word is actually something which requires constant deliberate effort in order to actually “listen”


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