Listen and silent are anagrams. We have to be silent in order to listen. We should never interrupt. Silence is not only with our mouths but also with our minds. Often we are silent but in our thoughts we are thinking of what I am going to say next or some other thoughts. `Abdu’l-Bahá says: "In order to find truth we must give up our prejudices, our own small trivial notions; an open receptive mind is essential. If our chalice is full of self, there is no room in it for the water of life. The fact that we imagine ourselves to be right and everybody else wrong is the greatest of all obstacles in the path towards unity, and unity is necessary if we would reach truth, for truth is one." Paris Talks page 136. An open mind is essential, if we lose this, we also lose the ability to listen.
The first step to listening is to think that they might be right. In science, truth is considered dependent on the frame of reference. For instance, if you look at a straw from two different perspectives, they will look very different and if two persons only cling to their perspective, they both consider the other being wrong. However, both are right, each from his or her own standpoint or perspective.
As such, every person is right according to their frame of reference, based on their experiences, learning and so on. It is of no use to try changing their opinion as it is dependent on their frame of reference. However, if you change their frame of reference, their opinion will change by itself. If we think they are wrong, we can not understand their frame of reference.
Bahá’u’lláh says: "He [Bahá'u'lláh] spoke about teaching. He said: 'A kindly approach and loving behavior toward the people are the first requirements for teaching the Cause. The teacher must carefully listen to whatever a person has to say -- even though his talk may consist only of vain imaginings and blind repetitions of the opinions of others. One should not resist or engage in argument. The teacher must avoid disputes which will end in stubborn refusal or hostility, because the other person will feel overpowered and defeated. Therefore, he will be more inclined to reject the Cause. One should rather say, "Maybe you are right, but kindly consider the question from this other point of view." Consideration, respect, and love encourage people to listen and do not force them to respond with hostility. They are convinced because they see that your purpose is not to defeat them, but to convey truth, to manifest courtesy, and to show forth heavenly attributes. This will encourage the people to be fair. Their spiritual natures will respond, and, by the bounty of God, they will find themselves recreated.' 'Consider the way in which the Master teaches the people. He listens very carefully to the most hollow and senseless talk. He listens so intently that the speaker says to himself, "He is trying to learn from me." Then the Master gradually and very carefully, by means that the other person does not perceive, puts him on the right path and endows him with a fresh power of understanding." Words attributed to Bahá'u'lláh, Stories
from the Delight of Hearts, pp. 109-110.
"How differently Abdu’l-Baha met the questioner, the conversationalist, the occasion: To the questioner He responded first with silence — an outward silence. His encouragement always was that the other should speak and He listen. There was never that eager tenseness so often met showing the most plainly that the listener has the pat answer ready the moment he should have a chance to utter it.…And when, under His encouraging sympathy, the interviewer became emptied of his words, there followed a brief interval of silence. There was no instant and complete outpouring of explanation and advice. He sometimes closed His eyes a moment as if He sought guidance from above himself; sometimes sat and searched the questioner’s soul with a loving, comprehending smile that melted the heart."
"I have heard certain people described as “good listeners”, but never have I imagined such a “listener” as Abdu’l-Baha. It was more than a sympathetic absorption of what the ear received. It was as though the two individualities became one; as if He so closely identified Himself with the one speaking that a merging of spirits occurred which made a verbal response almost unnecessary, superfluous. As I write, the words of Baha’u’llah recur to me: “When the sincere servant calls to Me in prayer I become the very ear with which He hearest My reply.” That was just it! Abdu’l-Baha seemed to listen with my ears."
I also love this delightful vignette that demonstrates the Master’s empathy towards all he listened to, regardless of age or the gravity of their concerns:
"It was observed how He listened so attentively one day to a young granddaughter of His – He took her troubles seriously. Though she was only about two years old, she chanted a Tablet in His presence. If a word failed her, He “gently” chanted it. She won from Him a glorious smile for her effort, while He sat in the corner of the divan drinking tea."
Perhaps the most powerful way to empathize with someone is to remember that we are all of God. Consider this short story:
Once Abdu’l-Baha was asked, “Why do all the guests who visit you come away with shining countenances?”
He said with a beautiful smile: “I cannot tell you, but in all those upon whom I look, I see only my Father’s Face.”
--from Portals to Freedom and Vignettes of the Life of 'Abdu’l-Bahá
"to love, to be loved and to love in return" is the basic need of all humans to be fully human. -John Updike