Erich Fromm’s Six Rules of Listening: Learn the Keys to Understanding Other People from the Famed Psychologist

Pho­to by Müller-May/Rain­er Funk, via Wiki­me­dia Com­mons

The social psy­chol­o­gist and philoso­pher Erich Fromm lived through just about the first 80 years of the 20th cen­tu­ry, begin­ning in Ger­many, end­ing in Switzer­land, and spend­ing peri­ods in between in places like New York, Mex­i­co City, and Lans­ing, Michi­gan. But his intel­lec­tu­al expe­ri­ence exceed­ed even his clear­ly for­mi­da­ble his­tor­i­cal and cul­tur­al expe­ri­ence: he engaged in not just psy­cho­an­a­lyt­ic the­o­ry and prac­tice but the­o­log­i­cal schol­ar­ship, polit­i­cal cri­tique, and what he called a kind of “mys­ti­cism.”

To the wider pub­lic, which first got to know him through his 1956 best­seller The Art of Lov­ing: An Enquiry into the Nature of Love, Fromm — who had already expe­ri­enced so much of human­i­ty — was an author­i­ty on human rela­tion­ships. Before one can love, one must, in a broad sense, be able to lis­ten, and he treats that sub­ject at length in The Art of Lis­ten­ing, a posthu­mous­ly pub­lished book adapt­ed from a 1974 sem­i­nar in Switzer­land.

Speak­ing in terms of psy­cho­analy­sis, Fromm objects to fram­ing lis­ten­ing as a “tech­nique,” since that word applies “to the mechan­i­cal, to that which is not alive, while the prop­er word for deal­ing with that which is alive is ‘art.’ ” And so if “psy­cho­analy­sis is a process of under­stand­ing man’s mind, par­tic­u­lar­ly that part which is con­scious… it is an art like the under­stand­ing of poet­ry.” He then pro­vides six basic rules for this art as fol­lows:

  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.

From­m’s rules apply not just out­side his pro­fes­sion but inde­pen­dent­ly of era or cul­ture: wher­ev­er you are or when­ev­er it hap­pens to be, you can always prac­tice free­ing your mind so as to con­cen­trate as com­plete­ly as pos­si­ble on the per­son talk­ing to you, hon­ing your imag­i­na­tion so as to vivid­ly expe­ri­ence in your mind what they have to ver­bal­ly com­mu­ni­cate. Of course, to love, in From­m’s sense, remains a par­tic­u­lar chal­lenge in this process, and for humans may well stand as the chal­lenge of exis­tence. But whether or not you cred­it psy­cho­analy­sis itself, the fact remains that we all must, to the great­est extent pos­si­ble, under­stand one anoth­er’s minds as our own; the very sur­vival of human­i­ty has always depend­ed on it.

via Brain Pick­ings

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Pow­er of Empa­thy: A Quick Ani­mat­ed Les­son That Can Make You a Bet­ter Per­son

We Are Wired to Be Kind: How Evo­lu­tion Gave Us Empa­thy, Com­pas­sion & Grat­i­tude

How to Lis­ten to Music: A Free Course from Yale Uni­ver­si­ty

Learn 48 Lan­guages Online for Free: Span­ish, Chi­nese, Eng­lish & More

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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