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How higher education pursuers can harness the power of listening 

Zeno of Citium, an ancient philosopher, once noted that our possession of two ears and one mouth suggests that our capacity for listening should outweigh our inclination to speak.
Source: The Des Moines Register
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In the bustling realm of academia and higher education, where knowledge is exchanged and ideas take flight, there is an oft-overlooked art form that holds an intense influence to success—the art of listening.

Zeno of Citium, an ancient philosopher, once noted that our possession of two ears and one mouth suggests that our capacity for listening should outweigh our inclination to speak. Wise thoughts indeed, and as pursuers of higher education, we would do well to heed this timeless wisdom.

In a world that celebrates the boisterous and the verbose, active listening emerges as a beacon of hope. Its merits, both in and out of the classroom, have propelled countless individuals to the pinnacle of achievement. Richard Branson, the founder of the Virgin Group, in a reflective moment on LinkedIn, stressed the significance of this dwindling art. “The ability to lock in and listen is a skill that has served me well in life,” he mused. Branson underscored the universal applicability of listening, asserting that it stands as a vital skill for teachers, parents, leaders, entrepreneurs, and, truth be told, anyone who possesses the gift of life itself.

But let us not confuse listening with mere hearing, as G. K. Chesterton admonished. The distinction between these two faculties, though subtle, holds profound implications for the pursuers of higher learning. Engaging in meaningful communication with erudite instructors can be an intimidating prospect. Yet armed with the proper skill set of listening, one can navigate this labyrinthine landscape with confidence and finesse.

Central to effective listening is the understanding that it is an active pursuit, rather than a passive state of being. When we engage in conversation, our aim should be to absorb, comprehend, and glean wisdom from those around us. It is not a monologue we seek, but rather a window into the thoughts and experiences of others. In the realm of higher education, this acuity of listening becomes a potent tool, enabling us to fashion astute and well-reasoned responses in the face of intellectual challenges.

To embark on this noble journey, one must consciously and deliberately dedicate themselves to the act and art of listening. Genuine attention must be paid, not merely to the words spoken, but to their contextual tapestry. Responding with relevance and nuance requires a heightened level of understanding—an understanding that is often elusive if we approach conversations with the intent to reply rather than comprehend. As the sagacious Roy T. Bennett observed, “The greatest problem with communication is that we don’t listen to understand, we listen to reply.” To counteract this tendency, we must be willing to ask clarifying questions, gently navigating the currents of uncertainty that may arise. Patience, in this regard, becomes our steadfast ally.

Yet, the path to attentive listening is fraught with distractions. The allure of smartphones and their tantalising grip on our attention must be resisted. We must also contend with internal interruptions that hunger and fatigue may impose upon our minds. Prudence dictates that we seek rest and nourishment, fortifying ourselves before entering the hallowed halls of learning. With a clear and focused mind, we are better equipped to receive the gifts of knowledge that await us.

Paraphrasing emerges as a powerful tool in our quest to absorb and internalise information. By rephrasing and encapsulating the highlights of a conversation, we solidify our grasp on the subject matter. It becomes an act of homage to the speaker, a testament to the importance we ascribe to their words.

Beyond the realm of words, we discover a rich tapestry of nonverbal communication. Facial expressions, body language, arm gestures, and the subtle nuances of tone all interweave to reveal the deeper layers of meaning within a conversation. Active listening enables us to decipher this complex tapestry, rendering us more perceptive to the intentions and emotions that lie beneath the surface. Through this heightened sensitivity, we foster not only mutual respect but also mitigate the perils of misunderstanding.

In our fervour for knowledge, we must not succumb to the temptation of assuming we possess all the answers. Even if a material appears familiar, the act of listening remains paramount. The true essence of listening lies not in agreement but in understanding. We must strive to perceive the unsaid, to discern the minimal and the expansive, and to weigh each syllable for its significance. It is through this discernment that we navigate the labyrinth of information, distinguishing the clarity from the confusion. Questions, therefore, become our guiding stars—illuminating our path, propelling us toward greater understanding.

And so, dear pursuer of higher education, let these words echo within you as you embark on your intellectual odyssey. Do not underestimate the power of listening, for it holds the key to unlocking the treasures of knowledge. Embrace the art of listening in all its glory. Listen with intention. Listen with passion. Listen with humility. And the symphony of voices shall guide you toward the zenith of wisdom.

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