Let’s face it, listening is hard work. It doesn’t come natural to human beings. Well, except if it’s something we’re not used to hearing like a bomb going off or a car crashing. Those sounds get our attention.
What tends to drown out in our awareness is the sound of a spouse, child, coworker or neighbor telling a story or thinking out loud about something only they really care about. We’ve become accustomed to their voice, their vocal intonations and cadence. Their preferences, tendencies and personality have come familiar and predictable (or so we believe).
You know you’ve done it; you begin to assume (and often times with amazing accuracy) where their thoughts will land. The problem is that sometimes we’re wrong.
“I hear you talking but I’m not listening.”
We’re not usually this direct or honest about our lack of focus. In large part because we’re not usually aware that we’re not listening well. We’ve become conditioned to “multi-tasking” which means only partially listening, especially with someone we’re familiar with. Strangers, or people we don’t know so well tend to be a different story. Our temptation there is to listen to our own chatter, or self-talk, more than we’re listening to the speaker. Social anxiety, even a mild version can contribute to this behavior. The good news is that we change all this with awareness, discipline and patience. We can become such astute listeners that our relationships, both intimate and casual can transform from good (or even bad) to great.
We all want to be heard. It’s not necessarily about having people agree with us, we do want our thoughts to be acknowledged though. From the perspective of the speaker the challenge is to verbalize, or otherwise express our thoughts in a way that is accurately received by the listener. There are a lot of potential barriers to this; different languages, varied dialects within the same language, cultural influences on the meanings of words, eve such factors as the listeners ability to hear. Hearing impairment is the basis from much miscommunication. Enter in the variety of technology we now use to convey messages; email, text, tweets, vines and on and on. Is it any wonder that miscommunication happens?
Yet effective communication is so fundamental to every relationship we have. Allow me to suggest that effective communication starts with two fundamental acts; breathing and patience. Well, really it’s one act, patience. the breathing encourages the art of patience. Try it right now. Ask someone a question. Do it! Put this reading down and approach someone. If no one is around call someone and ask a question. It can be about anything. Once they start talking, pay close attention to where your attention goes. Where does your mind wonder to? The color of pain on the walls? The fact that you should’ve gone to the bathroom before the conversation? The shirt color the speaker is wearing? Now be honest!
Then strike up another topic of interest with the same person. Now this time focus on just listening to understand.