Since we hadn’t connected in several months, I was filled with the news of the hideous weather, my daughter’s recent move and the many brilliant accomplishments of my grandson.
As we were talking on the telephone, not face-to-face, I wasn’t able to read her body language or see her eyes glaze over as I prattled on and on. Her lack of enthusiastic responses made me realize this wasn’t really a conversation about our happy, looking forward to Christmas preparations.
In fact, it wasn’t really a conversation at all; it was just me doing far too much talking and not nearly enough listening.
It’s going to be my resolution for the upcoming year to become a better listener. My dad used to remind me we have two ears and only one mouth, so we should listen and speak accordingly. With that in mind, I decided to see what communication coaches recommended.
First and foremost, each of them said the same thing — being a good listener is something one has to work at. It requires attention, focus, and personal involvement. As many wives (and parents of teenagers) have been heard to comment, listening and hearing are not the same. Because, according to researchers, we only retain or remember 25 per cent of what we hear It’s important to “stay in the moment.”
When we are distracted by any number of the daily multi-tasking demands on our schedule, it can lead to the breakdown of empathetic listening. Eventually, it becomes clear what the other person has said is not what you heard at all. (If you have ever participated in that party game of “whisper in the ear” you know how twisted and distorted words can become).
Interrupting is apparently the best way to totally derail a meaningful conversation and I can certainly agree with that. It conveys the idea that what you have to say is much more important than what the other person is saying. Sometimes it happens because we are emotionally activated by their words and a spontaneous eruption happens. But it remains that interrupting is disrespectful. It appears to be an attempt to impose your view, experience or opinion.
While it may be you are anxious and distressed and simply want to help the other person address the issue, none of us has the answer to every problem or situation that arises.
There actually is a world existing outside of our own understanding or skills and the only way to gain the perspective of the other person is to truly listen to what they have to say.
I have witnessed exchanges where it is completely obvious one of the speakers is so focused on what his next point will be that he seems to be detached until he thinks it’s once again his turn to verbalize. It’s not thinking and digesting what is being said, it’s thinking about what to say next.
One of the strategies suggested is to recap or paraphrase — that is “what I’m hearing is” or “are you saying?” Those kinds of questions indicate you are paying attention and are interested and, in addition, you are looking not only for what is being said but also how it’s being presented and are there underlying issues that need to be addressed? Are there more than joys and successes but also worries, failures, and sorrows which they want to share with a trusted and generous listener?
We can only become that person if we sincerely listen. I think I have my work cut out for me in 2014.
“When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable, but he who restrains his lips is wise.” Proverbs 10:19