The Art of Listening

Written by:  Julia Tyack

Though generally thought of as a brilliant social commentator, Fromm was first a great psychoanalyst. These posthumous writings combine two aspects of Fromm’s thinking, building on Freudian theory and also modifying it with a unique humanist view.  For Fromm, the essence of psychological health involves communication between the irrational and rational parts of the personality.  The art of therapy is the art of listening.

Listening, Fromm argues, “is an art like the understanding of poetry” and, like any art, has its own rules and norms.  Drawing on his half-century practice as a therapist, Fromm offers six such guidelines for mastering the art of unselfish understanding:

  1. The basic rule for practicing this art is the complete concentration of the listener.
  2. Nothing of importance must be on his mind, he must be optimally free from anxiety as well as from greed.
  3. He must possess a freely-working imagination which is sufficiently concrete to be expressed in words.
  4. He must be endowed with a capacity for empathy with another person and strong enough to feel the experience of the other as if it were his own.
  5. The condition for such empathy is a crucial facet of the capacity for love. To understand another means to love him — not in the erotic sense but in the sense of reaching out to him and of overcoming the fear of losing oneself.
  6. Understanding and loving are inseparable. If they are separate, it is a cerebral process and the door to essential understanding remains closed.

In the remainder of the The Art of Listening, Fromm goes on to detail the techniques, dynamics, and mindsets that make for an optimal listening relationship, in therapy and in life.