A few years ago, there was a commercial from a cell phone carrier in which the caller on the phone asked, “can you hear me? can you hear me now?” This commercial captures the importance of connection and being heard. We watch the worker test for reception, in various settings, seeking clarity and to be understood. The commercial also speaks to the intentionality and the effort it takes to sometimes really listen. This Summer we are honing in on the skill of listening as it relates to human connection. Deeper meaningful connection comes through listening. Being able to really listen is a skill!
Listening, really listening, allows for better human connection in several ways. Listening demonstrates respect. Listening demonstrates to the speaker that what you have to say is worthwhile. Listening allows opportunities for problem solving. Listening allows for relationship development.
WE ALL WANT TO BE LISTENED TO
Parents often share concerns that their children aren’t listening. When routine tasks go undone and simple directions aren’t followed, it leaves parents to wonder “why” and to ask their kids“how many times do I have to tell you to……?” The kids hear them, but they don’t follow the instructions. “I know you heard me,” parents say. But did they? Were they really listening or did they hear some sounds? Were they tuned in to what you were saying?
Teachers lament about students not listening. Again, it can be the relatively simple things that aren’t adhered to that leave the teacher believing that the student wasn’t listening. Then there are more complex things that kids need to be able to listen to. Learning the foundational parts of math, for example, are the building blocks to higher level math. Parents get feedback from teachers that their child is not listening and therefore not performing well in school. Parents become alarmed. At the root, concerns around kids not listening can be safety, learning, and even growing into a functioning adult.
Yet, children can feel unheard too. They have opinions, feelings, and preferences. They want to be considered in the decisions that are being made on their behalf. With so many ways to communicate, what is getting in the way of listening and feeling heard? Teenagers and Young Adults want to be heard too. They have even stronger opinions than younger kids as they are capable of more advanced thinking and have more exposure to the world. They want someone to really listen and understand their experiences.
WHAT GETS IN THE WAY OF LISTENING
Interruptions in their many forms interfere with listening. Anything that takes your attention away from the person you’re speaking with could be an interruption such as cell phones, other people, ourselves. Yes, when we interrupt someone who is speaking there is a shift, and it becomes about us being heard vs. listening.
Deciding that there is no more to learn by continuing to listen
Thinking that you have all of the information can be a barrier not only to the speaker, but if it creates a pattern, can create long-term barriers to communication.
Entering into a conversation with preconceived ideas about another’s thoughts, ideas, or motives, interferes with listening because you’re focused on hearing information that corroborates what you think, feel, or believe rather than truly listening and taking in what the person is saying.
Intense feelings about the information being shared can interfere with us being good listeners. In addition when the speaker is communicating with intense emotions it can be hard to listen and understand. At these times the focus is on the delivery, not what is being said.
HOW TO BECOME A BETTER LISTENER
With all of this desire to be heard, where does the effective listening begin?
On a very basic level listening includes nonverbal communication including eye contact or nodding your head in agreement that you are listening (not necessarily agreeing). These are signals that you are tuning in. Other ways to tune in are by restating what you heard. “What you’re saying is…” or the “uh huh”, “I understand”, “sure”, “I get it” or ‘can you explain that part to me a little more?”
Becoming a better lister includes being aware of the obstacles that we bring to communication and the outside interference. It requires some intentionality by setting the stage. Here are some helpful tips:
5 Dos of Better Listening
- Do get the attention of the listener
- Do remain calm
- Do create space devoid of distractions
- Do focus on the content that is being shared
- Do listen to understand (not just to respond)
Listening is a skill that builds connections. Would you like some support and guidance around learning how to be a better listener? If you’re ready to take the next step, please contact Milestones Counseling at (443) 574-4295. We would love to connect you with a therapist that is the right fit for you and your needs.