The dictionary defines “listen” as “giving one’s attention to a sound.” While this definition captures an essential part of the definition.  The goal of listening is understanding, thus, listening is a process.  As a process, listening then involves giving! Giving a lot more than mere attention with your ears.

Listening involves giving our heart, eyes, effort, empathy and so much more. The process of listening is so complex that no single definition can fully capture what really happens when one listens. As a result, from a single Traditional Chinese character, I will show that “genuine listening” involves more than auditory perception.

In traditional Chinese, the verb listen pronounced Ting literally means "to listen".  Ting is a character made up of several other distinct characters, each having a meaning that represents what we actually "give" when involved in the listening process.

Genuine listening involves giving the maximum of yourself to the process.  That is represented by the symbol "shi" (十 ) which means ten or maximum. When others know we respect them enough to give 100% of ourselves to listening and understanding them, they will be much more apt to open up and share.

Genuine listening means maintaining eye-contact (目) as represented by the character "mu" or "eyes".

When engaged in a conversation, words represent a fraction of the meaning that is conveyed. A lot more information is transmitted nonverbally. Researchers have found that the total impact of a message is about 7 percent verbal, 38 percent vocal and 55 percent nonverbal. Respectful eye-contact helps to bridge the boundary between the verbal and nonverbal. It brings a pure quality of receptivity as it opens the window to content and context of the message. So, when listening to someone, get rid of all visual distractions.

The next character "yi" means "one" or "single".  When taken in context with the character the next character "Xin" which means heart. "yi" means single undivided attention.  Coming back to the character "xin"... All humans have a need to be validated.  Listening to them with empathy allows them to feel as though they are being heard and understood.  This then feels good because it is connected to our deepest sense of self-worth. Oftentimes we listen with our attention focused on how we are going to respond or refute what the other person is saying. Genuine listening is different, it involves listening with curiosity, compassion, and with the true purpose of understanding.  Listening to someone with empathy demonstrates caring and acknowledging.  Listening with empathy gives the other person a chance to open up and to fully express themselves which is also represented by the character Xin meaning heart, as in them being able to express themselves from the heart.

As we move to the left, the next character means "ear" or hearing.  But remember ear is only part of Ting.  Listening involves more than the auditory act of hearing. 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.  Just using our hearing effectively as we listen already tells us a lot.

The last character "wang" represents king.  Formally it can also mean best.  We use our mind as we’re listening to understand.  We consider the words and ideas shared.  Many interpret "wang" in this context to mean best thinking or thinking like a king.

So if we take a look at the whole character, we could summarize the single Traditional Chinese word for listening which is Ting to translate loosely to, "Giving the maximum of yourself using your eyes, ears and heart, paying undivided attention and using our best thinking like a benevolent king."