What is Radical Open Listening?

Updated: Nov 25, 2020


Preconceptions are the Enemies of Listening.


I cannot listen when I believe I already know.  Any preconception that I have about what a speaker is saying is an obstruction to actual listening. This is because my already present assessments filter what I hear into recognizable categories.


But what if I could suspend what I think I already know. Could I then listen without preconception?  This is the possibility of radical open listening.  Once information passes into memory, that conversation persists by virtue of being added to what I know.  But can I learn to suspend what I know, so that I can actually listen to what is being said, without adding anything to it from my own interpretations?


Radical Open Listening is an intentional  Practice


My practice in conversation is to associate what I hear to what I already know. However, that is not radical open listening, in which I would listen as if I know nothing at all.  It seems like a tall order, but it does give me access to hearing something new.


So can I practice radical open listening?  I need to discover this for myself.  My attention is critical when I listen to the words that someone is speaking.  Am I attending to them or to their words?  We share a common language and inhabit a shared culture, and this is part of both the speaking and the listening.  Access to radical open listening is attending not just to what I am hearing, but also distinguishing that the interpretation I make is my own. Can I see that it is distinct from what is being said? Can I attend to what the speaker seems to be experiencing, even as I experience the impact of their words? Often I am simply in a rush to reply.


The Map is Not the Territory, and What's Said is Not Its Complete Meaning


If I can experience the speaker speaking, listening to their words, I can comprehend what they are saying. If I can experience the speaker, I can also what they are not saying.  Some of what is communicated is often transmitted by our common cultural understanding. Sometimes what is incomprehensible reveals a lack of a common culture. If I can realize this I might really be paying attention.  I must listen for the world of what is being said, rather than to only my assessments of what the words mean.  Then, a direct perception can occur that does not confuse meaning with content.


What is the difference between meaning and content?  At face value, perhaps not a lot, but if I am really listening, I might be hearing more than just what the words signify.  This requires listening as an observer observing my own listening, to distinguish when my attention is truly on the speaker, and when it instantly shifts to a filtered listening that brings interpretation, or that prepares me to respond.  When I listen for an opening for me to speak, I am not paying attention to what is being said. In short, I am not listening.


My opinions give me a false sense of certainty.  They are always there because they are part of the machinery of my cognition. However, my opinions are not a part of the machinery of my perception. Only my listening is capable of perceiving especially with regard to language.

Languaging is a kind of doing, but it is not a kind of being. Being arises though from what we do, so with radical open listening, a new kind of being might arise.  If we can experience more than the words actually imply, by entering a world of being from an open listening, we can experience that there is a relation to the world that occurs through direct consciousness of the world and of consciousness itself.


© Copyright 2014 Robert Fertman, All Rights Reserved

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