"Listening is an art. When people are speaking it requires that they have our undivided attention. We focus on them; we listen very carefully. We listen to the spoken words and the unspoken messages." - Frances Hesselbein, The Art of Listening
Just when I was thinking that nothing could inspire me to write anymore, I ran across this article- The Art of Listening- on the web. I was googling for Peter F. Drucker (been reading "Managing Oneself" by Drucker).
Listening is an art alright. We, humans, wear many masks. We mean one thing but we say something else in the hope that the other person understands (If you're a guy and you have a woman in your life, you'll know what I mean!:)). The kicker is in the tone and body language; Not the actual words. This is the reason it is hard to make computers fathom human conversation. There's just too many overtones, too many fine distinctions and too many idiosyncrasies.
Listening, if done right, is one of the most exhausting things one can ever do. Listening to a long technical/business discussion at a workplace can be strenuous. But then, mostly we can draw a line and say, "Hey, I am not going to let this affect me beyond this point!". You have the option of distancing yourself. "Human interest stories", on the other hand, don't let you do this. You start putting yourself in the other person's shoes, you imagine what'd have happened if you were in such a mess, what you'd feel,do etc...and at some point, you start feeling the other person's happiness/agony/anger/sadness/enthusiasm! Your emotions take over rapidly because you're actually listening. This is especially true with friends and loved ones.
I don't know if I am a good listener or not. But many-a-time, I've been influenced by the mood of the people I've been talking to. With the web, feeds, phone, tv, radio etc..., one is just flooded with information. I think that the trick is to listen to the right people at the right time for the right things.