5 listening insights from the Chinese character for listening

The Chinese character for listening provides its own wisdom about how to listen effectively.

The Chinese Character for listening

Chinese characters are one of the oldest systems of writing in the world, dating back almost 5,000 years. There are tens of thousands of characters, each with their own special meaning.

Here is the Chinese character for listening:

The Chinese character for listening is made up of the different elements and requirements of listening. Across the top of the character there are the elements of ears (to hear) and eyes (to see).

We use our ears to listen by paying attention not just to the words spoken but also to the tone, pace and emphasis, to help understand The person’s relationship to the words. If a person starts talking more quickly, a little louder, with more emphasis, we know that they are engaged and interested in the topic. Alternatively, if they’re more monotone, slower, with less emphasis and less modulation we know they’re less interest in the topic. Just using our hearing effectively as we listen already tells us a lot!

We use our eyes to connect with the person we are listening to and reassure them that they have our attention. We also use our eyes to check the body language of the person to gain insights into their thoughts. Are they open, animated and expensive with their body language? if so you know they’re confident and enthused about the topic. Or are they more closed, using smaller or no gestures and more rigid? If so, you know they’re less confident, less enthused.

Across the bottom of the character are the elements of the mind (to think) and the heart (to feel).

We use our mind as we’re listening to consider the words and ideas shared. We may choose to take an ‘open-minded’ approach to what we’re hearing, suspending judgement and being open to all that we hear. Or we may choose to be more critical or analytical in how we think. Whichever approach we take our thinking is an essential part of how we listen.

We use our heart to listen as we empathize with the person we’re listening to, as we experience the emotions being shared and as we care for the person and their opinions. Using our heart allows us to listen more deeply and connect with the person we’re listening to at an emotional level, not just rationally.

At the center of the character, holding this all together, is a single stroke.

This represents the need for undivided attention and focus as we listen. We can think much quicker than a person can talk and as a result we tend to fill in the gaps, sometimes with unnecessary chatter. To listen most effectively we need to calm this chatter, and completely focus.

The Chinese character for listening, as you can see it above, is the traditional character. This traditional character is used in Hong Kong, Taiwan and other overseas Chinese communities. In the People’s Republic of China (or ‘mainland China’) the simplified Chinese character, “听”, is used.

There’s more here on the pronunciation and calligraphy strokes of the traditional Chinese character for listening.

A 5-step plan to improve your team’s listening skills

You can use the different elements of the Chinese character for listening to practice your listening skills with your team.

You’ll all have more success if you break down the elements and focus on practicing each specific skill in turn.

You can set this up as a 5-step activity, or give yourselves one day to practice each step, giving you all a 5-day plan to improve your listening skills.

Monday: focus on using your ears. Tune into the tone, pace, pause, emphasis and modulation of the spoken words. What are you hearing that helps you listen effectively?

Tuesday: focus on using your eyes. Tune into facial expressions, the body language, the posture and gestures of the speaker. What are you seeing that helps you listen effectively?

Wednesday: focus on using your mind. How will you choose to listen? Is it appropriate to be open-minded and uncritical, or will you be more analytical in your thinking? Be conscious of how your mind is approaching the task of listening.

Thursday: focus on using your heart. Tune into the emotions of the person your listening to, use everything you have practiced so far and open your heart to the emotions.

Friday: undivided attention. Finally, pull together all these elements of the Chinese character for listening and give the person your undivided attention.

Kick-off this activity on Monday and get together to reflect on the learning on Friday (you might want to send out a reminder to your team during the week too).

Have a great week of listening! And for a little more Asian inspiration, take a look at our Chinese proverbs and quotes about listening.

Dive deeper

Discover how to become a better listener.

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