I believe, if we were honest with ourselves in answering the question, “Are you listening?” most of us would respond affirmatively. I also believe that all of us pride ourselves on how attentive we are about listening to others and we seem to be very capable of carrying on a conversation with one individual or a number of people at the same. What a wonderful skill that each of us have been given, the skill of listening. After all, each of us has been given two ears and one mouth. So if we were to follow the law of averages, we would automatically think that we can do twice as much listening as verbalizing. Why would any of us ask a question like “Are you listening”?
When we talk about listening skills, I do not think that we are as proficient at listening to others as we think. I believe we hear what we want to hear and we think we are doing a great job with the skill we have been given. I would like to give you some examples of just how good of listeners we are. Just for a moment, let me re-locate you to a few different scenarios and bring the truth around our listening skills to heart.
Picture yourself entering either a party or a business meeting. You are being introduced to two, three or four people, whom you have never met before. The first person you are introduced to, you get the name and remember it. What about the third or fourth person? Do you have to ask someone else what that person’s name is? If you find yourself in this position, it is due to a lack of listening and wanting to move ahead to the next person.
What about at home or at work, do you find yourself asking a family member or a co-worker to please repeat that comment or question, as you did not quite hear the whole statement or question? Sounds familiar? Well, it could be due to the fact that you did not focus or give that individual the 100% attention that they desired or deserved.
Would you be one of those people, amongst us, who have a very short attention span? Do you find yourself only able to focus your attention on someone’s conversation for a very limited period? Do you find that, after a short period of time, you are moving on from that conversation? If so, how do you think the other person is feeling? What you may want to do is to tell people that they will need to get to the point early to keep your attention and, as such, they are able to engage your ability to listen and stay focused.
How many times, have you ever found yourself pretending to listen but knowing full well that you are thinking about a different topic or preparing to provide an answer even before the question has been asked? Sounds familiar?
I guess that brings us to the question, “What makes a good listener?” And far be it for me to provide you with the answers because I have fallen into each of the traps above. What I can tell you is that it boils down to respect for all of the individuals that you are in contact with. Respect all interactions you may find yourself entering into, whether you want them or not. The interactions that present themselves to you, whether they are with family, friends or peers, could be largely outside of your control. You may not want to enter into these discussions, but you cannot make those decisions on your own.
Does this take us back to the fact that we have two ears to listen with and only one mouth to respond with? Give it a try. It is not easy. It is hard work to change, but it will make a big change in your relationships, if you work on changing.
I hope you have a wonderful holiday season and give the gift of listening.
By Rich Gorman, Board Chair at Semihamoo House Society
Semiahmoo House Society, a non-profit organization located in Surrey/White Rock, exists to provide quality services and supports to people with disabilities and their families in the community. The Semiahmoo Foundation exists to fund, support and enhance the programs and services delivered by Semiahmoo House Society.