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I have a weakness that I’m ashamed of as a speech-language pathologist. I feel I am a horrible listener. Shameful, since I know better. I know and understand the power of listening vs. always speaking. True comprehension of an incoming message and all its verbal, non-verbal parts. It’s the going beyond knowing you were heard to a person demonstrating s/he listened and is processing your “full” message. You see we can hear, listen but only get a portion of the message…you know…enough of a response to get by to be a good friend, employee, spouse. Yet, did you “fully listen”? Many times not. Many times you were being distracted. Distracted by other actions/noise in the environment but also distracted by competing needs whirling through you, the listener, as you try to focus your attention (hopefully) on the speaker.

I’ve noticed over the years that I should be better at listening. This past year, especially these last few months, I’ve been trying to dissect my listening skills and why I feel driven to speak more than listen. “What are my distractors, my hurdles that I need to remove in order to become a better and more effective listener?”, I have been asking myself, analyzing and trying to implement stronger listening skills. It’s not so easy. I’m still a work in progress. To this I’m sure some of my friends could agree.

Communicating effectively tends to be thought about mainly in the active, the speaking aspect. (Although writing is another form of communication) People want to speak well so they can tell you what they are thinking, what they need, to entertain, etc. That way it can be acted upon by the listener or a target audience. There is such power in seeing your words acted upon by having something occur or seeing a positive reaction such as laughter. All this because you spoke. What power. I think that is one of my hurdles. I like to see the power of my words result in an action I wanted to have happen. I will admit that in past meetings with a team I was working with, I spoke and spoke with the intent they will have to listen to me until they agree to what I need them to do. Selfish ME!!! So they nodded their heads and “yes, yes’d” me. I felt successful because they agreed to do as I instructed and asked. In actuality, I was a verbal bully and I failed. I should have approached that meeting to listening to what was going on with the project, what they felt was going well or not well and why they thought this and how I could best help them in their opinion – not mine. Then given time to synthesize and fully assess, I could have provided the information they needed. I probably would have garnered better respect and trust from them and quicker. I’ve got to get my ego out of the listening component of my communications.

Another hurdle, I’m afraid that I’m going to forget a point that I want to bring up to the person speaking. It’s a good point. I’m afraid I’m going to lose it. At this point, I’ve blown it! I’m now more focused on trying to remember my point and my full listening capacity is gone. At this point, have you ever had this happen and now realize you haven’t heard anything they’ve said since your internal “ah ha moment”? Admit it. You know you have. It’s O.K. to admit. I won’t tell. But you act like you’re actively listening by leaning in, nodding your head, maybe “hmmhmmm”ing. This is a concern of many as we age. The fear that our brain can no longer participate efficiently in multiple activities such as listening, assessing information, synthesizing, and locating information in our memories that we think is beneficial to share. Never mind there just may be too much crap going on in your head because you’re a teenager or you’re a mother.

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Who ever said listening is passive to the speaker’s active is crazy! It’s very hard to listen beyond just hearing. Hearing just happens because our ears have the functioning physical apparatus to do their job. It’s the ACT (then skill) of listening to this stimuli or input and how your brain works on it that becomes crucial and how well you do as a listener. You have to be attentive to listen effectively. Being attentive is not passive. How many times have you been told to pay attention and not get distracted? Yes, distracted. Being distracted while trying to pay attention and listen to your speaker, I allow this to happen often. In this case, distracted by the need to bring up a point I don’t want to forget. Some would say to then bring the spotlight and power back to me. Ah power and ego. Seem to keep coming up, don’t they? Nothing bad about it. It’s human nature. We like things to be about our self. Yet being on top of the food chain and having the capacity of higher thought, I can target improving my skills to become at better listener. It is scary to move away from thinking about your needs, your ego’s needs while participating in a conversation with someone. It’s not easy because it’s also a very comfortable habit. It takes awareness and practice to do so. That means work. Yes, more work. However, the benefits that can come about as a result of this work can be extremely worthwhile in both your personal and professional lives.

As I wrote earlier, I have been asking myself, analyzing and trying to implement stronger listening skills. It’s not so easy. I’m still a work in progress. I promise to keep trying because I do see great value in what comes from fully listening to others.

To appear wise one must talk.
But to be wise one must listen.
Anonymous