Sunday, 19 October 2014

Listening is the Key!

In my last post I talked about the importance of making a good impression and explained what I feel are the three most important areas to which we need to focus our training and study in order to make a good impression when meeting Japanese Sensei for the first time; Technical knowledge (deep understanding of the basic waza), Cultural knowledge (deep understanding of Japanese culture and social norms), and Linguistic knowledge (proficiency with Japanese language to communicate effectively).

I would like to continue in this post by providing you with one piece of advice that I think could facilitate growth in all of these areas. It is simple but in its simplicity lays the difficulty. If I could only give one piece of advice, it would have to be this, Listen. Just stop and listen. I know this sounds easy but in North America we like to talk. In fact we like to talk so much that we have developed a ‘need to be heard’ mentality. If we can develop our self-control to the point where we can stop and listen to what is going on around us we can grow in ways we would otherwise never even be aware of. While we are talking, we are missing the chance to listen, to hear and reducing our opportunities to learn and understand.

There are two ways to write listen in Japanese, both are pronounced Kiku the first and probably most commonly written is 聞く. Let me break down the character to explain my interpretation of what it means to listen this way. Mon, this part of the kanji means gateway (some people think it looks like two people talking) this could have some validity because, It is said that the guards who were standing at their post were often known to gossip while they were guarding the gateway. If a spy wanted to collect information on their enemy they would hide near the gateway and eavesdrop on the guards hence the next part of the character Mimi, an Ear. Therefore, it makes sense that this means listen but to me it feels distant like the listener is in some way detached from the speaker(s). To only listen to what is being said without any feeling or responsibility is a shallow way to listen.


There is a much deeper kanji that expresses the way of listening which I am talking about, 聴くas I mentioned earlier this is also pronounced Kiku. But, as you can see the components of the character are different. First we have mimi, the ear followed by a sign over Me, an Eye and finally Kokoro, the Heart / Spirit. As you can see to listen in this way one must use their ears, eyes and heart to listen. The right side of the character can also be written as Nao used in 素直 Sunao, obedient (which I mentioned in the post ‘Emptying your Cup and Filling it with Greatness’) and also 真直ぐMasugu, straight. So this means that not only must one listen with their ears, eyes and heart but their heart must also be of noble intent. I will try to explain how straight and obedient translates to noble intent in a future post. Here I just want to point out that in order to really learn we need to stop talking and give up our desire to be heard. There is a great deal of strength in listening. Especially if it is this kind of listening!

In order to realize this kind of listening it is important to understand the common ways people listen. We generally listen in one of the following ways:

1.      We may be IGNORING (無視) the other person (not listening at all)

2.      We may be PRETENDING (聴くふりをする) “Yeah, uh-huh, I see…”

3.      We may be SELECTIVE LISTENING (選択的に聞く) Hearing only what you want to hear

4.      We may be LISTENING ATTENTIVELY (注意して聞く) Paying attention and focusing all of our energy on the words that are being said.

I would say that language students generally listen this way in order to pick up as many words as they know in hopes of understanding the meaning of what is being said but sometimes the intent is still lost. For a long time these four ways were the only ones addressed in the literature but, there is an even higher level of listening that will help create better communicative competence, a fifth way that Stephen R. Covey defines and illustrates in his book ‘7 Habits of Highly Successful People’ EMPATHIC LISTENING (感情移入をして相手の話を聴くこと) listening with intent to understand.


I would have to say that Covey’s “empathic listening” is the closest way to describe what it means to listen when it is written 聴く “listening with intent to understand.” This is how we must listen if we want to grow and improve. It has also been proven that the simple act of doing so adds to our success. In my opinion this is one of the most important lessons I have learned while living in Japan. Listening is definitely the key!

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