Here’s a summary of the idea:
Most people listen to others with an aim to solving problems, expressing an opinion or responding to what the other person has said. Although most of us believe we listen, very few of us truly seek to understand what’s going on deeply in the people we speak with. The paradox is that we don’t truly understand, we haven’t earned the right to be heard; on the other hand, if we truly understand the other person’s point of view and they sense that, we’ve earned the right to be heard and they actually want to hear our point of view.
I realized in reading this is one of the subtle changes that has happened in my life since moving to Turkey. I used to be a horrible listener. Because I had a lot of friends, and was a pretty open person, people would open up to me and ask for advice a lot. Often when people came to me with problems, I would prescribe, advise and preach to them as soon as they finished describing their problem. I spent very little effort seeking to understand them.
Somehow this has changed in me, and I find that friends from back home and current friends don’t see me as the blunt person that I was in the past. I’ve often wondered what has changed me. Of course a big part of it must be simply the maturing process of becoming an adult, but I think it can mainly be attributed to the fact that living in a foreign country has caused me to “seek first to understand.”
From the time I arrived here, I’ve been in a constant struggle to understand what’s going on around me. It starts from day one; “Why is Adana so dead in the summer?” “Why are there flags on the balconies?” “Why are people so proud of their shopping mall?” It continues into language learning; “what did he say?” “What does that phrase mean in English?” “Was he talking about me?” and continues even beyond the four year year mark to today. I read the paper and listen to spoken Turkish with all of my concentration in order to accurately understand what’s being said. I’m constantly trying to improve my ability to understand not only the language, but also the cultural subtleties that come through in daily life. I’m constantly seeking to understand.
I believe this has benefited me greatly in my personal life. Because of living in a place where I’m constantly surrounded by things I don’t understand, I’ve learned the practice of seeking to understand well. I hope my friends and family feel better understood by me when I talk with them. I have Turkey to thank for this.