27 Sep 2016

Je Vous Ecoute: Are You Listening?


Je vous écoute; I am listening.

Something I have noticed recently – for a world where everybody is plugged in most of the time, very few listen.

I like the sentence je vous écoute because in Provence, where I hear it often it truly does mean, I am listening. It prefaces a break in conversation where you make your point and have your say; generally without interruption. Perhaps it is a southern habit but it is a trademark of the south and one I have come to value.

Nobody listens!

It is a broad and flammable statement but one I find to be too often true. Our attention spans, our self-involvement and our constant need for stimulation have rendered the art of listening and therefore the art of conversation secondary place.

This is a broad generalisation but also I fear for many of us it is true; not all the time but sometimes. It is difficult to listen, to really listen and even harder to hear and interpret not only words and nuances but the meaning of conversations. Frequently we have our answers prepped and ready to go before the other person has even finished their sentence. Often we don’t really want to hear their story, their upset or their point of view; we simply want to voice and hear our own. How often a story gets matched with a bigger and better one or a personal motive becomes the focus when it shouldn’t. The point of the conversation is entirely lost.



I’m lucky, my friends are very good listeners. We need good listeners in our lives; it is the best kind of therapy when someone really, really hears. It is a win for both sides; therefore we must reciprocate.

David is the best of all listeners I know.

He listens and really hears what is said. He doesn’t interrupt or push his own agenda; he considers what is on the table. He may seem to ‘vanish’, through lack of comment or a distance in his eyes, but in truth he is concentrating and listening to what I have to say. I know because much later he will make it known what he thinks; over the big and the small.

I am not as artful as he is when it comes to listening. I want to be a good listener but sometimes I get wrapped up in my own voice and I miss out; not being a listener means we miss out. We miss out on engagement, we miss out on praise and we avoid criticism. It is tempting to fill the space with our own voice, to prattle through nervousness or fear of an outcome. It takes practice to stand steady and to wait for others who may be less effective at communicating. They will get there; we must remember not to speak for them.

Not listening can be used as an avoidance tactic. If you don’t hear the words, they are not true.

We all know better than that. Being listeners does not make us quiet or dull or uninteresting, listening makes us more attractive because we naturally become more involved.

Everyone, or at least many younger than me are plugged into some kind of device when they are out and about. I notice so many on the street and on public transport aren’t moving in “real time”; they are talking on the phone, listening to music or scrolling through their phones. There is no plain sitting or standing anymore. What happened to being in touch with our surroundings?

We all like amusement to counteract our boredom and multi-tasking is a skill to be revered but when so much of life is tuned out how can we tune in when required? How do we know when to listen and when to be quiet?

Listening is another routine, like exercising; the more we do the easier it is and the stronger we feel.

Je vous écoute. Really, xv.


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In This Post:



Vicki Ford

Oh how true. I kick myself and quietly cringe inside when I interrupt other people, it is such a bad habit of mine that can rear its selfish head at the most inconvenient times. How I long to listen more, to listen and articulate skillfully the other persons communication, whether I find it boring, dull or otherwise. I wish to be less selfish in my dealings with people. I am currently pushing through each false reality I have conditioned for myself over time, letting the reality of present be my embracing. And to find apples of gold in settings of silver as I quiet my soul in every moment where possible. I think this makes me a much better person, and a more attractive woman as I find peace in my soul.

Taste of France

It seems people don’t even talk on their phones anymore, except when driving (which is the only time I see people actually holding phones up to their ears).
Your friends and husband sound wonderful.


They are … and I appreciate more and more their gift for listening.. It’s a true art… I wish I were better at it :)

Mimi Gregor

That’s probably why texting has become so popular — one isn’t expected to necessarily text back. That would be too much like a conversation! I’ve heard that actually calling people rather than texting is now considered rude — they may not be in a position to talk to you. Well then, don’t pick up the bloody phone!!! Jeez… doesn’t that occur to them?


And as for leaving voice messages… they are a serious No No!!
Maybe we need to know the etiquette of texting; I am sure I break all the rules ;)


Very true, Vicki. Well said. Must take this message to heart and act on it. Best wishes, Pamela


I have a tendency to live in my head, thinking about all sorts of things, that I catch myself half listening to what is going around me. But when a friend really needs me to listen, I do! But on an average day, I need to be a less lazy listener. :)

david terry

Dear Vicki,

How funny……just this past week, a friend showed me “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”, and I was so delighted by it (I rarely see movies and certainly hadn’t seen this one) I made him show me
“The Second Best Exotic Margild Hotel” a couple of nights later. I was wildly entertained (and more than a bit touched at moments) by the second movie, also.

For those who don’t know?…both movies concern a group of previously unrelated, elderly Britishers (men and women) who’ve come to India in order to eke out their dwindling savings. Maggie Smith is, as ever, beyond wonderful (although, predictably enough, her character is markedly acerbic)

My favorite moment in the movie came when some young, full-on-himself banker kept yattering on and then asked her a direct question. Having sat across from him for at least ten minutes, she levels her gaze on him and crisply announces “Please do not think that, just because I’m looking at you, that means I’m listening or, for that matter, care about what you’re saying”.

A pretty withering comment, to say the least…..

Of course, lots of folks signal that they’re not actually listening in all sorts of other (and far less witty) ways. Oddly enough, it’s only in my fifties that I’ve come to recognize this behavior (I REALLY REALLY hate folks who text while you’re speaking to them, and then act as though what they’re doing is perfectly normal?????”).

Of course, every time over-talkative-Me tries to make it clear, by keeping quiet and simply looking at the person/friend, that I’m listening, the person regularly stops talking and asks “What’s Wrong???”. I inevitably say “Nothing’s wrong….I was just listening. I DO know how to do it sometimes, you know……”

Amusedly as ever,

David Terry

Mimi Gregor

I had to write that Maggie Smith quote in my “quote book”! I love withering comments, as long as they are not directed at me. (In this case, as in much else, it is better to give than to receive.)

Linda B

This is indeed one of the core issues of our times! For a while, I have been pondering it, deeply. In fact, as the pedagogical administrator where I work, I have made the art of listening (as the basis of healthy communication) into the theme of study for this year for the faculty at my school. Here is a quote I brought to a faculty in-service meeting before school started in August, to guide our work; it is by Rudolf Steiner, the founder of Waldorf education, and really mirror’s what you had to say today, Vicki!

“. . .We must become accustomed to listening in such a way that we quiet our own inner life completely when we listen. For example, when someone expresses an opinion and another listens, agreement or disagreement usually stirs immediately within the listener. Often in such a situation we feel compelled to express our own opinion at once, especially if we disagree. However, . . .we must learn to silence any agreement or disagreement with the opinions we hear. Naturally, this does not mean that we should suddenly change our way of life and strive to achieve this complete inner silence all the time. We must start with isolated instances that we choose intentionally. Then quite slowly and gradually, as if by itself, this new way of listening will become a habit.
. . . we should feel it our duty to set aside, as an exercise, certain times when we listen to the most contrary of opinions, completely silencing within us all agreement and, especially, all negative judgment. Not only must we silence our intellectual judgment but also any feelings of disapproval, rejection, or even agreement. Above all, we must observe ourselves carefully to ensure that such feelings, even though absent from the surface of the soul, are not present in its innermost depths. For example, we must learn to listen to the remarks of those who are in some way inferior to us, suppressing every feeling of superiority or knowing better.
Listening to children in this way is especially useful, and even the wisest of us can learn a great deal from them. These exercises teach us to listen selflessly to the words of others, completely excluding our own personality, opinions, and feelings. Once we are practiced in listening in this way without criticism, then gradually, even when the most contradictory views and illogical statements are aired before us, we begin to learn how to unite ourselves with the being of the other person and fully enter into it. We begin to hear through the words, into the other person’s soul. . .”

Texas Francophile

Absolutely loved this post. It applies to all of us whether you’re the talker or the listener. Sometimes when I’m telling a story and I see a pal texting or thinking about her grocery list I want to say, in mid-sentence, “and then I add 1/2cup of sugar,” and continue my story.
Always enjoy Listening to YOU Vicki!


Listening is a part of education and you can learn it but I wont be to rigorous
saying this. Nowadays people seems to be a lot in stressful situations and
busy with themselves and “multithinking” though I can understand their behavour. All the more one of the dialog partner should be a good listener and my experience is that men are better in this task as women are


“Often we don’t really want to hear their story, their upset or their point of view; we simply want to voice and hear our own. How often a story gets matched with a bigger and better one or a personal motive becomes the focus when it shouldn’t. The point of the conversation is entirely lost.”

Love this post. Listening is a skill to be developed one’s whole life. I have found the more I listen the better for me. As we get older many of us feel the need to regale the younger generation with our tidbits of knowledge we’ve learned along the way. Which is fine if they ask. Listening is so much more fun

lisa thomson

Listening is an important life skill. It requires concentration. Also, we have forgotten to live in the moment with our technology at our fingertips. This definitely interferes with listening. Great topic, Vicki!


So true Vicki When I worked as a corporate coach we were trained to listen and to pick up nuances paying special attention to body language. However I still forget and find it difficult to listen to those close to me in everyday life. It is so easy to get carried away and interrupt.


Thank you for writing this. As a mother of teen girls, there is a blissful silence that is explained in the lack of conversation at times, however the over consumption of “snackable content” has turned millennials into superficially knowledgeable consumers. Younger people, in my experience, lack the ability to focus on more than 30 words at any given time, tweets are limited to 140 characters, Instagram stories, etc. and the effort required to listen to someone relate a story, well, it’s just “too boring.” There is some hope that they may become adept at networking, cocktail party chatter, and birthday party guests, I suppose. I fear the future will be a society full of those lacking the depth in active listening behavior, such as the ability to read the other’s body language, the furrowed brow and “mm-hmm” reinforcement as a story unfolds. Book signings have replaced book (or poetry) readings.

I read an article some time ago about the skill of well-known news journalists is not really in their interview technique. The story analyzed their questions based on interview subject’s previous responses. In most all the cases, the answer had been provided, if only the interviewer had focused more on listening rather than preparing for the next question. Among adults, I see the gender differences most acutely: you describe your husband’s quietly thoughtful intake, with response coming later, yet most women tend to have more vocal responses during conversation, to indicate active listening.

My interest lately is whether someone is looking for a response, as in problem-solving, or simply venting.


Hi Vicki Well said Listening is so important & a dying art yet a much needed skill for all our relationships especially as a parent Thank you for bringing it to our attention We all need a timely reminder to be the best we can XX

Esther George

Hi Vicki, my daughter told me the other day that my husband and I are doing her head in, our excuse we hardly see her she’s so busy at work that when she drops in I feel as if we are competing for her attention, but not actually seeing and listening to her, the thing is I used to be so calm and slow talking…note to self get a grip. I have to tell you about a great French movie I watched a few days ago, it’s a Woody Allen movie called Paris Manhattan on chSBS with subtitles I had not heard of it and was pleasantly entertained by its story line about this crazy but normal family (as all families tend to be) and its beauty. I’ve come to the conclusion either I learn French or learn to read subtitles faster. Thank you for this wonderful blog. Till next time, regards Esther from Sydney. PS SBS plays some great foreign movies a few weeks ago they played an Italian comedy with Robert De Nero and the very beautiful Monica Ballucci…wonderful.

Anita Rivera

I MISSED THIS! And this is a topic that is very near and dear to my heart. My father, bless his soul, did not think it was important to listen to women. As I was growing up and developing my thoughts and ideas, he literally would cup his hands over his ears and walk out of the room. It marred me for years, and to this day as a language teacher, I instruct my students to listen, to really listen, understand, and appropriate respond. It’s a courtesy, it’s an obligation to others.


Was so sorry to read this. But you’ve clearly managed to emerge from his negative dealings with the women in his family with confidence and have worked out for yourself these important qualities.
I was so lucky with my father – he was a very good listener – I always knew I’d have his full attention if I wanted to talk anything over with him. He also loved a debate (he was very well read and followed political developments and international affairs closely) – so we’d often discuss ideas and issues. He also gave very good advice, much of which I still adhere to today. But he died suddenly from a heart attack when I was 18. Have missed him all the rest of my life. But he provided such a good role model to follow in regard to listening and thinking carefully about the things I’d heard and developing judgment about issues. Not being judgmental – the importance of sound judgment. Not that I’ve always succeeded in this – but found it was particularly useful at work where sound judgement was one of the criteria my employers particularly valued. Best wishes, Pamela


Hi Vicki
I’ve found in my life all I’ve done is listen to others, constantly giving support. Which has taught me a lot, in my job as a health consultant those listening skills have been invaluable. There are many things to look for whilst listening and as others here have mentioned, it’s subtle and sometimes happens in an instantaneous moment. Still learning still watching, but I’m speaking up a lot more now. And @. Texus Francophile- lol I’ve done that many times to my girls to make sure they were listening… Putting all sorts of silly things into the conversation.
Great post Vicki.
Kim ?

Leslie in Oregon

This is maybe your best post during the many years I’ve been reading French Essence. Thank you for making these points, Vicki…most of us in the U.S., particularly during this election, need to take them to heart. I am determined to heed your David’s example and your wise counsel.


This is a very important topic to consider. Sometimes it is difficult to listen to another person’s ideas or explanation when ours is different. In opening our ears we open our hearts. I teach second grade and try to open my heart to my students (many living in poverty, which is not just financial) by listening to them and thus understanding how I can better reach them.


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