Are we listening enough?
Communication is vital in relationships. But not many of us realise that it is our ability to listen that draws people to us, not the other way around. The fact that many pay professionals to listen to their life stories, struggles and aspirations tell us that we strive to be heard.
Life is governed by communication: we draft letters and prepare reports in the workplace, we answer phone calls, we read the newspapers and we ask questions and answer some of them. We understand each other through our ears and mouth. But do we really understand what people say? Whenever we are on the receiving end of a conversation, how much of the things people say do we put in our hearts?
Are we listening enough?
Hearing vs. listening
“You don’t get it!”
“You don’t understand…”
“Are you listening to me?”
These are just the common things people say whenever they feel like they aren’t being listened to. Whenever we speak to our loved ones, we want to have their full attention. Because of that, we become sensitive to behaviours that display inattentiveness: wandering eyes, texting, the absence of a nod or a “go on.” We feel insignificant whenever our listeners do not pay attention to us.
But we must remember that the same is true whenever we do not pay attention to those who speak to us.
The distinction between hearing and listening became popular because we have learned that people listen in varying degrees. Hearing means the simple act of recognising sound by our ears. Through hearing, we become aware that a person is talking to us, but this does not necessarily mean we understand what they are saying. Listening means so much more than hearing – it means concentrating on the essence of what a person is saying. It also means we are showing our appreciation of that person by paying attention to what he or she is saying.
Whenever a person speaks to us and we simply hear them, not listen, we make them feel less important in our lives. How much effort we put into listening others can make or break relationships. But why is it tempting not to listen to what others have to say?
Why we do not listen
There are plenty of reasons why we choose not to listen to people. Here are just some examples:
- Selfishness. Let’s admit it. At least once in our life we have wished that the person talking to us would just pipe down. Sometimes we choose not to listen because what the person is saying is simply not interesting to hear or something we actually do not want to hear.
- Deception. Often, we like to appear engaged in a conversation by nodding and asking questions when truth is our mind is drifting away. We deceive our speakers by looking interested to avoid being called out by them.
- Mistrust. Our ears seem to close up whenever people whom we do not trust speak to us. Rejecting what other people say comes from the idea that these people aim to manipulate us to do something we do not like. An absence of sympathy to the speaker leads us not to absorb what they are saying.
- Being defensive. When we believe that we are not at fault or that our conscience is free of any mistake, we have a tendency to not pay attention to speakers. This is especially true among younger people who are being sermonised by their elders or parents.
- Distraction. Prioritising work and other activities distract us from listening 100%. As a result, we do not drop whatever it is we are doing to listen. Instead, we multi-task and try to juggle both responsibilities at the same time.
It is true that we cannot always give our full attention to those speaking to us. But nobody deserves to be ignored or belittled, especially if what they are saying is important to them. If we feel that it’s not the best time to listen to what people have to say, we simply need to tell them that. It’s better than making them believe we have been listening fully all this time. Also, specifying when best to talk is a good way to prepare and allow our minds to be more open to others’ thoughts and feelings.
Listening takes practice. Here are a few techniques we can practise that will help us be more effective listeners:
1. Focus. We love to multitask. Technology makes it possible for us to do more than one thing at the same time, and that includes listening. But to fully understand what another person is saying, we have to learn to drop everything and listen. Another way to maintain focus is to:
2. Face the listener and maintain eye contact. Our body language can tell people how much engaged we are in a conversation. Eye contact is an alternative to physical contact and also tells people we are interested. If we let our eyes wander around or if we shift the position of our bodies, we are bound to be distracted by our surroundings.
3. Keep an open mind. To those prone to mistrusting and being defensive, it is important to practise keeping an open mind. We often get easily hurt whenever our elders sermonise us, thinking everything is a direct attack on us personally. But people will start to make sense to us if we stop from criticising and judging what they have to say.
4. Don’t interrupt. We must be polite, wait our turn and not rush conversations. Interrupting often destroys a person’s flow of thought. Let the person finish everything he or she needs to say first before we share our opinions. People also speak in their own pace, and sometimes this is the only way they can express themselves well.
5. Feel what the speaker is feeling. Imagining what the speaker is going through allows us to sympathise with them and encourages us to open our hearts and bring more of ourselves into conversations. This also helps us to:
6. Give useful and meaningful advice or feedback. Only by giving our full attention can be think deeper of another person’s situation and provide realistic advice. However, there are times when we are not required to add anything into a conversation. Some speakers only want to be heard to vent out their feelings. We have to be sensitive to when we should or should not give advice.
7. Watch their body language. As already mentioned, body language adds another level of meaning to conversations. Feelings and emotions are often not obvious in words but in a person’s movements. To get the full message, we should be sensitive to the changes in a person’s facial expressions, gestures and to the shift of the body.
These listening techniques can be applied in our daily life. In time, we may become used to them and not think about them consciously when we listen to people. Instead, they become automatic and natural, drawing more people to us and improving our relationship with them.
If we listen only half-heartedly, our opinions and companionship become less valued by others. As the saying goes, we should not do to others what we don’t want them to do to us. This means if we want to be listened to fully, we should also be willing to listen to others when they need it.
Do you constantly find yourself distracted during conversations? What do you do to keep yourself from being distracted? Do you think it is reasonable to not listen all the time? Share your views by commenting below!