Are you really listening?
By JEAN SELVAM
Focusing on our phone, working on the laptop, gazing at the television—these are all very normal and acceptable things to do, except when someone is speaking to you. How much of your divided attention is the person actually getting? 50 percent? Five percent?
Sadly, we are all guilty of focusing too much on electronics while neglecting the other person who is trying to have a conversation. Ironically, we are also the ones who complain about the lack of focus and attention during a typical face-to-face interaction.
As broadcast journalist Karen Hellesvig-Gaskell states: “Hearing is a passive occurrence that requires no effort.” It is an involuntary process that starts with noise, vibration, the movement of fluid in the ears and sound sent to the brain.
“Listening, on the other hand, is a voluntary act where we try to make sense out of the noise we hear,” she adds.
The crucial difference between the sense of hearing and the skill of listening is attention. — Seth S. Horowitz, auditory neuroscientist and author of The Universal Sense: How Hearing Shapes the Mind.
According to Horowitz, the phrase “you never listen” is not just the complaint of a problematic relationship but it has also become an epidemic in a fast-paced world focused on convenience and speed.
So, has not listening become a habit? Has it become something that is part of our culture or just the effects of a fast-moving world of technology? Ultimately, is the lack of eye contact and attention acceptable?
Why is listening important?
All of us want to be heard. When someone knows you are really listening to what they have to say, amazing things can happen.
Understanding something which initially seemed impossible can be reached. Solutions that were never imagined can be found. Past anger and resentments can be overcome.
In to her post on Forbes, titled 10 Steps to Effective Listening, Dianne Schilling writes: “In today’s high-tech, high-speed, high-stress world, communication is more important than ever, yet we seem to devote less and less time to really listening to one another. Genuine listening has become a rare gift—the gift of time.
“It helps build relationships, solves problems, ensures understanding, resolves conflicts, and improves accuracy. At work, effective listening means fewer errors and less wasted time. At home, it helps develop resourceful, self-reliant kids who can solve their own problems. Listening builds friendships and careers. It saves money and marriages.”
There are many tips on active and effective listening on the Internet. Here, I’ve managed to summarise some of the key points on important listening skills that you can pick up and practise with your loved ones or colleagues.
1. Face the person speaking and maintain eye contact
Do your conversation partners the courtesy of turning or looking up to face them. Put aside your laptop, phone, book and other distractions. This is the most basic communication skill and the sincerest form of respect.
2. Be attentive but relaxed
You don’t have to stare at the other person. Eventually, that can feel intimidating, or worse, creepy! You can look away now and then and carry on normally. But the key word here is attentiveness.
Don’t allow yourself to be distracted by your surroundings, devices, and your own thoughts, feelings, or biases.
3. Don’t interrupt and don’t impose
Everyone thinks and speaks at different rates. If you are a quick thinker and fast talker, remind yourself to relax your pace for the slower, more thoughtful communicator, or for the person who has trouble expressing himself or herself.
At the same time, try not to impose your solutions on the other person. Most of us don’t listen very well. If we do manage to listen very well, we are often just waiting for the other person to finish so that we can say what is on our minds. But that’s not really listening.
Allow that person the latitude of speaking his or her thoughts and feelings. Somewhere down the line, if you are absolutely bursting with a brilliant idea, at least get the speaker’s permission to share.
Now, of course there are many other bits of advice to improve on your listening skills. But, you can always start with the aforementioned points and see where they take you.
Here’s a simple test: try listening to someone you are close to, like your spouse, child or parent. Or you can try listening to a difficult business colleague or client.
And when they finish, don’t let yourself jump in with, “Yes, but…”
Instead, if you do say anything, try asking, “What else?”
The final piece of advice comes from Tim Jarvis, columnist of O, The Oprah Magazine, who says: “No matter what, you can’t go wrong by showing interest in what other people say and making them feel important. In other words, the better you listen, the more you’ll be listened to.”
If you would like to find out how you can hone your listening skills better, please email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more Starting Young articles, click here.
Jean enjoys working with children and youth because they inspire her to be a joyous and courageous person. She has a background in family therapy and was previously a part of the Leaderonomics Youth team.