I think most of us would rate ourselves as good listeners, but we would have to use an asterisk (*) that with the big IF- we were truly interested in what was being said. Yes, we are social beings; yes, we want to be liked and linked to others; yes, we know that good communication leads to good relationships. But most of the time all we are really doing is hearing, which is the physical act of sensing sounds.
Many of you as children played a game called telephone at a party or a learning tool in a listening class. The participants stand in a line, the first person whispers a message in the ear of the person next to them and asks that person to pass the message to next person. Down the line the message goes and truthfully where it stops no one knows. More often than not the message the last person in the line tells the entire room is very different from the original. No one had listened, they heard sounds and made some of their own interpretation. We remember 25-50% of what we hear. TO LISTEN is the ability to understand the world and other people. We listen to obtain information, to understand, to learn, and for enjoyment.
Obviously, we all need to work on improving our listening skills. A first step is our frame of reference. Our own well-being is our primary concern and is what our ear is attuned to. To listen we need to step away from ourselves, focus on the person who is speaking, and stay with that person until they are done speaking. It is crucial that we are able to hear what is important to that person. We need to understand what it is like for that person. We do this not just by hearing their words, but observing the nonverbal cues given. There may be pauses and even silence to which we need to be comfortable in allowing them and not feeling that we have to jump in and speak.
Our bodies can help us to further listen by letting the person know that we are truly with that person. We can lean in a little closer to the person. We need to make eye contact, but not continual. The best recommended time is seven to ten seconds periodically. Nodding our heads, saying “I see” or “Yes” will convey that we are understanding what is being said. We need to have facial expressions that indicate that we are interested and with the person. Lastly, it is best that we not fidget or slough which can be perceived as being bored and uninterested. All these behaviors will encourage the person to continue to speak and help us to fully understand.
Only when the person has finished is it the time for us to speak. Interrupting is rude as well as it puts us back into ourselves rather than focusing on that person. Now we are no longer listening, this may cause the person to stop speaking, and we have lost an opportunity to understand. We can ask questions to clarify or to further help us to comprehend. This is a good time to paraphrase what we have heard to further let the speaker know that you are understanding what has been said and give them the opportunity to further clarify if it is needed.
Lastly, we need to respond appropriately which means without judgment or critically. We can have an open and honest response and still be polite.
There are many quotes about listening. One I like is: The word Listen contains the same number of letters as in the word Silent.
Orlaine I. Gabert
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