Driving, while carrying on a conversation with your teenage daughter as she simultaneously text messages, is not unheard of in this day and age. But even years ago listening was an acquired skill. According to the Greek Philosopher Epictetus, “Nature gave us one tongue and two ears so we could hear twice as much as we speak.” Listening, or knowing how to listen, is always key in making sure we are having successful conversations.
Stop, look and listen
How many times a day are you making mental lists while someone is talking to you? We live in a hectic, multi-tasking world and listening is not as simple as it seems. Therefore, we need to discipline ourselves to slow down and listen to the world around us. Pausing to really hear what is being said enables you to actively interact with those around you. Sounds easy, cliche, whatever you want to call it, but how easy is it really?
Effective communication has a physical component that compliments the auditory. To actively listen, you must open up and utilize your senses, allowing maximum input to your brain.
Look at your speaker. What do their eyes or other facial features show? What kind of body language is present? Think back to when you were a child; you knew your parents were angry before they started yelling. Utilize your sense of vision to tune into what the speaker is saying nonverbally.
Listen to your speaker. Do not construct your grocery list or your next response; really stop and listen to what he or she is saying. This takes a good sense of focus, and ability to tune out extraneous sounds.
Feel your speaker. Now before any sexual harassment charges arise let me clarify; feel what he or she is trying to say. What emotional tone is being used? Put your own feelings on hold and check your opinion at the door. Truly listening to someone includes the ability to actively participate in the conversation without saturating the speaker with your opinion.
What? I can’t hear you
We only retain “25-50 percent” of what we hear, according to the Web site Mindtools.com . Percentages this low make one wonder what comprises the other 50-75 percent!
Active listening is not something that comes naturally to us. However, ever since childhood we have the need to be heard. Imagine how much you could learn if you listened and drew from other’s experiences.
Another benefit of active listening is that the speaker will sense your participation and thrive on it. After all, don’t we all just want to be heard?
Active listening is a skill that must be honed. Just because we are born with two ears, it does not mean we use them to capacity. As defined by Webster’s Dictionary, to listen is “to hear something with thoughtful attention, give consideration.” Therefore, to actively listen is to participate, as well as “hearing” with thoughtful attention. To engage in the conversation, you can ask questions when appropriate, and refuse distraction. No matter how much you have left to accomplish today, do not sneak a peek at your watch while someone is speaking.
Where have I heard this before …
A variety of professionals utilize active listening skills as an integral job component. Nurses, for example, are constantly rephrasing and paraphrasing patient’s concerns. They must accurately be able to depict patients’ concerns to the physician. Social workers and psychologists actively listen, as can be demonstrated by the common phrase, “I think I heard you say …” Sometimes, therapy is required to re-educate the poor listener. For instance, marriage counseling involves a trained professional re-educating two participants on the finer aspects of communication.
Crisis and conflict is a time when proper communication and listening could greatly benefit us. The FBI, for example, uses active listening during crisis negotiations. I’m sure the last argument you had with your spouse was hot, but not nearly in the ranks of crisis negotiations …
When having a heated debate with a loved one, try to refocus and listen to what he or she is saying. Usually, the root of an argument is buried in the fact that two people are unable to communicate their own side accurately. Imagine how quickly an argument would come to resolution if one or both parties stopped and paid attention to the other rather than formulating the next defense.
You can do a little research, Google or contact a professional. Also, when you are ready, there are a variety of workshops and self help reading materials available. However, as with any self-help tool, you must educate yourself and then develop a method that works for you. Hopefully, with a little focus, you can reap the benefits that come from listening.
Juliet Wilkinson is a Registered Nurse who has worked in health care for over 12 years. She currently works in Pain Management in Southern Florida.