How do we listen ?
I realize that I’m not listening well lately. Usually I’m a pretty good listener. I work hard at listening. Listening is different than hearing. Hearing is often misunderstood communication. Hearing has the potential human problem of playing the Telephone Game even when we think we’re really listening. What’s the Telephone Game? Remember the childhood game of saying something into your neighbor’s ear and then trying to pass it on correctly to all the friends in the circle? By the time the saying comes out the other end, it’s completely different than what the originator had stated. We all laugh and marvel at how “I love cats” becomes “Benny is very fat” but so it does. So why do we misunderstand one another? What causes our human inability to hear one another?
Part of our misunderstanding lies in our interpretation of what is being said. We place our own agendas and value judgments on what is coming at us. Our own bias colors what the message is. We don’t even pay attention to the whole statement since we assume we know the message before it is completely stated.
Listening is a skill that must be learned.
There are many methods to teach people to listen. In Non-violent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg, one of the key skills of the responder is to reflect back what we think we’ve heard BEFORE responding to the other person.
The following is a very simple scenario to explain:
A) I don’t like it when you leave dishes in the sink.
B) So you are saying that when I leave dishes in the sink, it makes you angry?
A) Yes. I feel like I’ve said that to you before, but there are still dishes in the sink.
B) It sounds like you feel frustrated that you’ve told me that before and I haven’t been respecting your needs by washing my dishes.
A) Yes, that is why I am mad.
B) Okay, so I’m going to make a better effort to respect your needs and make sure I do my dishes.
A) Thank you-that would make me feel better.
In the previous scenario, person B reflects back what he/she thought she heard and attempts to understand the feelings of person A. Once person A feels understood, person B can attempt to address the needs of person A and hopefully resolve the conflict.
I have been trained to listen, yet I sometimes forget to do so. I don’t consistently respond with compassion and actually listen-I’m just reacting. Sometimes I’m tired. Being tired has a huge impact on whether I can engage listening skills or not. Good listening skills require a sense of inner balance to do optimally. If you are tired, overwrought, or over stimulated, it is hard to balance yourself and listen.
Sometimes what people say to me is so outrageous that I find I’m shocked and can’t think straight. This is a good time to do what I call “The Amy.” When someone says something challenging, nod and say, “hmmm.” Perhaps even add “interesting…” or “Let me think about that…” This “purposeful pause” will help you engage your executive brain functioning. It gives a moment for you to breathe and find some balance and you won’t have to react emotionally.
If we can truly listen to one another, we can find it easier being with others. All the world is a potential Telephone game. We can engage in some new strategies to listen better.