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Listen with Your Heart to Communicate Better

Being a presentation by CHUKA NNABUIFE, on the occasion of the World Communication Day, marked May 29, 2022 at St. Patrick Catholic Cathedral, Awka, Anambra State

“A wise man will hear and increase in learning, and a man of understanding will acquire wise counsel” – Proverbs 1:5

“When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen” – Ernest Hemingway

“If we were supposed to talk more than we listen, we would have had two tongues and one ear” – Mark Twain

“Nature has given us two ears, two eyes and but one tongue to the end that we should hear and see more than we speak” – Socrates


Listening is cardinal and extremely valuable in communication but it is fast becoming extinct. This explains why there is a lot of information in our contemporary society with very scant communication. There are many messages which not many comprehend or understand. Most of the world’s current crises in homes, communities and countries can be traced to ineffective communication due to obvious flaws in the act of listening.

Even in our churches and other faith-based organisations, poor listening causes challenges of cohesion and harmony. It is therefore, no surprise that His Holiness, Pope Francis chose Listening with the Ears of the Heart as thrust of this year’s World Communication Day, WCD.

“We all have ears but many times even those with perfect hearing are unable to hear another person... In fact, there is an interior deafness worse than the physical one. Indeed, listening concerns the whole person, not just the sense of hearing. The true seat of listening is the heart”, observed His Holiness while introducing the 56th yearly edition of the WCD.

It appears that we are finding it more difficult to pay sufficient attention to one another. Until we are able to practically connect the roles of the heart and the ear in our communications, we may not achieve effective communication and our world would continue to wallow in avoidable crisis.


A) Listening:

‘Listening’, ordinarily refers to paying attention to sound. It is an act done with the ear. Oxford Advanced Learners’ Dictionary defines the word ‘listen’ as a verb which can be explained thusly: “to pay attention to sb/sth that you can hear.” In another explanation the lexicon states that to listen (to sb/sth) is “to take notice of what somebody says to you, follow their advice or believe them”.

Listening is devoting keen interest to sound and things around it with the purpose of getting the message.

www.skillsyouneed.com describes listening as the ability to accurately receive and interpret messages in the communication process. The source further states that without the ability to listen effectively, messages are easily misunderstood.

Listening is ordinarily an effortless endeavour that is natural to animals. However, good listening requires much more than nature. It is indeed a consciously developed smart ability with skillsets that aid the understanding of information being conveyed from outside or by others. It is fundamentally, a vital functional process in receiving and responding to spoken and sometimes unspoken messages (Richard Nordquist, Jan. 6, 2019).

B) The Heart:

As a part of animal’s body, the heart refers to “an organ in the chest that sends blood around the body” among many other explanations. But beyond that physical object on the left side of humans’ chest, the heart means a lot more.

Figuratively and in literary terms, the heart also refers to the core emotions of the human person as well as the most important crust of the matter in intellectual context. It is used in language to refer to someone having strong positive or negative feelings for something as well as to respond to an issue according to one’s feelings rather than what he or she thinks about it.

The heart of a matter is therefore the main issue in it. This may be stated, implied or both.

The heart, in communication represents much more than the physical seat of life which nature puts in the chest of animals or human beings. It is the thrust of the message as Christians believe.

Oxford Concise Dictionary of the Christian Church (E.A. Livingstone) states: “In the Bible, the heart usually designates the whole personality, though here the emphasis is on the activities of reason and will, rather than on the emotions. In Christian spirituality, the heart is regarded as the organ for love of God”.

In Christianity, urging a believer to resort to his or her heart is as good as a calling on him to go about the mission with divine direction.

Therefore by ‘listening with the heart’, this discourse means paying keen attention with the view of hearing and seeing the expressed, the implied and the circumstances around the message. It is also a call to go about the mission with the love of God not just emotions and intuition. Without giving heart-deep attention, the listener would not get the thrust of the whole communication.


Communication is simply the passage of message from a source to a receiver through a channel while eliciting feedback. When the feedback from a receiver conforms to what the sender expected, effective communication is said to have happened. Where the feedback did not reflect or fit the intent of the messenger the message failed. There are many factors that can cause the failure of a message apart from the original piece of information.

Experts’ reason that among the major causes of ineffective communication are channel noise – a technical expression for audible, visible and non-verbal distractions within the line of passage of a message – as well as the environment or culture of the communication. ‘Actions speak louder than words’. Words and actions are the things that influence what we understand and when we listen to a message.

Arguably, everything about channel noise and impact of environment on a message is about good or bad listening or active and inactive listening. Active listening takes in the words as well as the actions in the message.

Listening is a very crucial factor in the communication process because it directly affects the passage and assimilation of message. It leads to the quality of results in understanding, affects sharing and comprehension of the messenger’s meaning. No qualitative communication can be arrived at without active listening.


From the source to his or her message, the channel used, the receiver, feedback, environment of information to its context and even the role of interferences, the act and art of listening play vital roles.

The importance of listening in the line of communication therefore, cannot be over- emphasised but it is not an easy task to embark on. For the listener to get to the heart of the matter, he or she has to acquire refined listening skills. Those skills make full grasp of the issues possible.

Among the vital leads to effective listening are curious interest, good physical faculties for taking in sound and ability to decipher the verbal and non-verbal information in the message. There are equally, phases of exercising the skills in order to achieve higher quality of communication.

According to Marving Gottlieb, (‘Managing Group Process’, Praeger, 2003) there are four elements and levels the listener explores in his listening. They are:

1) ‘Attention’ which requires that the listener focuses on the visual and verbal communication.

2) ‘Hearing’ which enables the listener consciously open “the gates of his or her ears”.

3) ‘Understanding’ dwells on the listener’s ability to assign meaning to the message received.

4) ‘Remembering’ refers to the ability of the listener to recall, store and make comprehensive meaning of the whole information before giving feedback.

But acquiring those skills could be an uphill task for anyone who is naturally impatient, egotic, proud, or with low attention span. To such a person, experts advise some basic procedures that aide listening skills such as:

·        Beginning with acknowledging the messenger;

·        Endeavouring to feel his or her concern or that he or she is entitled to the point(s) of view.

·        Developing the ability to paraphrase the message, and

·        Noting the emphasis – either the points emphasised verbally or the ones magnified in non-verbal forms.

These make listening an active process that requires mutual respect, focus, sincere assessment, serious sense for details and informed articulation before sending feedback.

The poet Alice Duer Miller, according to Richard Nordquist wrote: “You can listen like a blank wall or like a splendid auditorium where every sound comes back fuller and richer.”


Message is the heart of communication, but one may not get an informed grasp of a message without knowing where the messenger is coming from and where he or she is heading with the communication. However, getting the heart of a communicator through his or her message is a very difficult, if futile venture because the mind of man is very complex. No listener can unravel it even with paying the keenest attention. So the playwright, William Shakespeare was on point in the lines spoken by King Duncan in Act 1, Scene 4 of his play, Macbeth:

"There's no art / to find the mind's construction in the face."

Through the character, Shakespeare observed the futility of unravelling or deciphering the intent of messengers from their messages. However, there are an inexplicable but manifest way messages and the receiver’s hearts meet and bond.

In the book ‘The Unbearable Lightness of Being’ (Goodreads) Milan Kundera states: ‘When the heart speaks, the mind finds it indecent to object.’

It is getting the ears of the listener to connect effectively with the mind of the messenger that is the heart of the communication.

Posers however are: How do we really get the heart of a message or the mind of the messenger? How do we listen with our heart to a heart we cannot decode or encode? These are actually the knotty issues here.  

Going by the maxim of the Canadian theorist and educator, Marshall McLuhan in Chapter One of his book, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, "The medium is the message" (1964). What this implies is that through understanding the medium we can get a clearer idea of the message.

McLuhan offers us a hint of how to go about the task. A messenger does not stand or speak on his own. He represents another or several other entities. Who is or are they? Where is he or she coming from? Where is he or she heading? Where, when, why and how is the message being sent?

The listener should be abreast with these but he must give the messenger full attention, heed him with deserved respect to be able to be well informed on those issues whilst the messenger should reciprocate with similar concentration when the receiver gives his or her feedback to be able to get the real thrust. It is only then that he would have a rounded understanding and comprehension of the message, and the messenger would leave with assurance that he communicated with the receiver because communication is an exchange from hearts not just contacts between mouths and ears. Communication is a mutually interactive unending chain of activity between the messenger and the receiver who interchange roles. Hence it is, ideally, a dialogue not a monologue.


“If there is any one secret of success, it lies in the ability to get the other person’s point of view and see things from his angle as well as from your own” – Henry Ford

There is one thing about effective communication; it enriches both the sender and the receiver. This is achieved by ‘heart to heart’ interaction. Messages are not comprehended or understood by just the receiver paying keen attention and filling away what he or she picked with the ears. Having the message hived somewhere in the mind is not enough. Rather the well communicated message meets the heart of the reciever, and germinates therein to inspire, rattle, motivate or put off him or her. The receiver’s heart, not his or her ears, is the soil that takes in a message to influence what happens of it thereafter in the form of feedback or subsequent reports.

What is reported after receiving the message is actually, more of an outcome of the impression the sender made in the heart of the receiver than just the words of the message.



Beyond listening skills and recognising the dignity of the human required for achieving a ‘heart to heart’ communication, the sender of a message should however, do some essential work to ensue effective communication. He or she should consciously aspire to use positive methods of dispersing information that respect the listener, draw his or her attention and eschew ambiguous words or non-verbal distractions to engender the right feedback. He or she should also be concise but not crudely abridged in his message.

Though persuasive methods of communication may not be ideal in situations when a message is intended to instil fear; establish need for urgent action; disseminate martial order among other situations where emphatic style of delivery may be necessary, most times, persuasive approaches in delivery of information, sell the message better even if it is a clarion call or alert. The listener’s heart responds more positively to messages that endear him or her to the heart of the messenger.   

The man who listens with the ears of his heart has his human person placed in the middle of the sender’s message. Any sound that hurts his personality turns the message awry.

Communication is all about reciprocating, and respect is reciprocal.

The legendary president of the United States of America, Abraham Lincoln, once noted:

“If you would win a man to your cause, first convince him that you are his friend.”

Nevertheless, getting the others’ heart in both ends of communication – the sender and the receiver – is a delicate but difficult task. To achieve it we must always work on improving our skills. Only this way would we be able to unlock the worsening “interior deafness” of our generation, which His Holiness, Pope Francis referred to.

Sir Nnabuife is Managing Director & Chief Executive Officer

Anambra Newspapers and Printing Corporation


Anambra State



234  802 647 2357

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