My Dad was telling me, in great detail, about grass.  That’s not code for anything else.  I’m talking sod, lawn, cut it with a mower: grass.  He was trying to tell me something about the variety of grass he was going to put down in his yard- I think.  Clearly I was listening challenged on that day, because the only message I received was, “grass.”  Don’t worry.  My Dad is not going to be surprised if he reads my blog, I told him I was having trouble listening that day.  Thankfully, he understood and it was his turn to listen.  

On a regular basis, we are bombarded by information of all varieties.  Our senses are constantly receiving a stream of information be it visual, auditory, tactile, gustatory or olfactory.  It’s not surprising to me that listening can be so challenging for some of us.  Let’s now make an important distinction: there is hearing, and then there is listening.  We hear things, “...grass..lots of it...roots...” but then after hearing we systematically process what we have heard.  There is work involved and to improve upon it takes some conscious effort.  No wonder it’s not a natural super-ability! Plus, for many of us (who, me?) talking can be so much more instantly gratifying!

When we are actually listening, we receive a message (the hearing part), understand it, remember things, evaluate what we’re hearing and respond.  This can go wrong in some ways, for example when someone wants to talk about his lawn and someone else has other matters on her mind (for the record, my Dad will be one of the first people I call when I’m blessed with the opportunity to do home improvement and I will be ALL ears).  Aside from mental distractions, there are physical.  I’m certain none of these will ring a bell with you, but some barriers to listening present themselves in the form of Celebrity Apprentice, Red Sox vs. Yankees, Candy Crush Saga, Facebook, and text messages, to name a few.  Without a doubt, if you are not 100% focused on the speaker, you are less likely to receive their message- and there’s no fooling them.  In fact, my kids have taught me that the younger the speaker is, the easier it is for him to tell how well you are listening!

Sometimes, we also think we know what a person is going to say before they say it. We’ll conclude that if our best friend is complaining about some frenemy, she’s not likely to finish the story with how much Frenemy surprised her by doing something nice and selfless.  Yet, it pays not to finish the story for your friend.  If you’re focused on the outcome, you probably aren’t fully engaged in listening.  And also, give Frenemy the benefit of the doubt- keep in mind that what your Besty tells you may or may not be fact, you’re simply hearing her perspective.  Further, you’ll only remember what you internalize from that story.  Simply put, you’ll tell it like you saw it, or like you heard it, as the case may be.  

The deeper I delve into this whole listening thing, the more I begin to think that listening is a practice like yoga or meditation.  Good listening requires some recognition about yourself like how you might be biased or tend to prejudge or filter whatever you do and do not want to hear.  You have to stay present and focus on your speaker.  In that way, you can catch the specific words he selects, all of what he says, or even what he does not say.  If you’re truly listening, you’ll be able to show that speaker.  It probably would have been nicer of me, when speaking with my Dad, to say, “Wow, you’ve got a lot of work ahead of you with that grass, but I can tell you did your research.”  I would have been able to confirm my interest and not challenge him- to actively listen.  If you’re not sure what I mean by not challenging the speaker, I mean not using the response my fifteen year old self would have given: “Dad, it’s grass, get over it- how hard can planting grass be?”

Listening, however, gets deeper than this.  Like I said, it’s a practice.  Have you ever considered how we listen to ourselves? The July issue of one of my favorite magazines, Success, has an article by Amy Anderson about one of the “best-known” life coaches in the country- a woman named Martha Beck.  She discusses her latest book and the concept of listening to one’s own inner compass.  Beck advises others “to spend more time in silence,” the goal being “peace and equilibrium within.”  She teaches people that all of the answers they need in life are within them, and that if one listens to herself, she will live her purpose.  

I really hadn’t thought of listening in that way before and once I considered the idea I was intrigued- and excited to share it.  Of course I want to be a great listener for others, because I think listening well strengthens relationships and allows one to learn from others.  Yet, in considering how and how often I listen to myself, I can’t help but wonder- if we listen to ourselves more, will we listen to others better?

Leave a Reply.

    Jennifer Loebel