Chinese Insights on the Art of Listening

Chinese Insights on the Art of Listening By Susan Ingram

{3:24 minutes to read}

During the holidays especially, we all seem to be doing more while at the same time finding less time and patience to accomplish what needs to be done. Our interactions and conversations with family, friends and others can end up being strained and less productive than usual. So I thought this was a good opportunity to re-introduce some concepts I’ve written about before on the subject of Active Listening.

Some time ago, in my research, I came upon the Chinese character for the word “Listening.” I was fascinated to learn that the character is comprised of 5 separate symbols related to listening. The meanings of those 5 symbols are discussed below:


Since our ears are the part of our bodies that enables us to hear sound, they are the most obvious component of listening and typically the first thing we think of. Yet, according to the Chinese, the ears comprise only 1 of the 5 elements. So, continuing on….


When we’re in conversation with someone, it’s important that we really “see” that person. That means we need to be looking at the person as we speak to him or her. At the same time, we also need to take in their body language, picking up on cues that give further information as to the person’s attitude about what they’re telling us and/or how they are reacting to what we’re saying.


We need to be thinking about, and processing, what the other person is saying. To do that, we have to be fully engaged. Too often, our gut reaction is to close down our thinking or selectively hear only what supports our beliefs or position. Instead, we need to make a conscious effort to keep our mind open and curious enough to truly hear everything the other person is saying.

Undivided Attention:

It’s important that we focus fully on our conversation with the other person. We tend to be selective in what we hear – often filtering out parts of the other person’s conversation that are not in alignment with our beliefs. We will fare much better if we listen attentively to all of the information that is being presented to us.


Conversations don’t just happen in a vacuum. Our feelings and emotions come into play whenever we interact with another person. The more we can empathize with that person and see things from their perspective, the more likely it is that we’ll find a way to move the discussion forward and satisfy our individual needs.

The Chinese were very wise indeed to identify these 5 elements of listening. We would also be very wise to strive to incorporate them into our conversations.

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One response on “Chinese Insights on the Art of Listening

  1. Rosa

    Hi Susan. What beautiful insights!! I think that the most difficult thing for a person is to listen; be empathetic. Almost everyone thinks they are competent listeners, but no. Listen without judging the other person; listening with an open mind is not easy.
    As a mediator I have to learn how to do this and how to teach parties to do this with each other, It is not easy!!

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