Listen

Hello?
Is there anybody in there?
Just nod if you can hear me
Is there anyone at home?

Comfortably Numb – Pink Floyd

Do you ever feel like when you are talking to people – whether it’s in person or on the phone that they are not listening? I was chatting on the phone with my daughter earlier, she had called me; when after telling her a little tidbit of info, I was met with complete silence. Hello? Hello? I knew the line hadn’t dropped out because I could still hear something on the other end of the line.

“What? What did you say again? Sorry, I got distracted by something on my screen.”

Communication comes from the Latin word communicare, meaning “to share”. Thanks to my high school Latin teacher, Mr. Frank Smith, I always look at the root word when trying to fully understand words. Communication is a two way street, although I find that these days more and more people seem to think it’s a one-way street. People are more concerned with making sure their points are heard than actually giving the effort to actually listen to someone else’s thoughts or ideas. The key to all effective communication is listening.

Listening is a huge part of the communication process and should not be confused with hearing. Hearing is defined as “the faculty or sense by which sound is perceived.” So as long as you don’t have a medical hearing impairment – hearing is an automatic physical process. Listening on the other hand is completely different. Listening requires focus and concentration. It’s the ability to accurately receive and interpret messages in the communication process. It’s not a passive process and a good listener is as engaged in the communication process as the speaker.

Group Of Business People Actively Listening To Speaker Giving Presentation

Today, sadly, too many people don’t know the difference between hearing and listening. “I hear you” is not the same as “I’m listening to you.” I’m sure many people think that they are indeed listening, but they actually are not. In some cases, people are simply thinking about what their response will be once you’re done talking – that is, if they are polite enough not to interrupt you in order to get their point across. Part of the problem stems from the fact that the average person’s speaking rate is 125-175 words per minute compared to the average processing rate which is 400-800 words per minute. So that leaves plenty of time to daydream and get distracted by your own thoughts or something completely not related. FOCUS PEOPLE. This is one of the biggest barriers to effective listening.

Too many times while visiting with friends or family who we don’t see all that often, I notice everyone has their phones in their hands while they are talking. “I’m listening – I’m just multitasking”. “I have to check my email – don’t worry I’m listening.” “I’m just playing a word game, keep talking – I’m listening.” how many times have we all heard this. The listener isn’t being an active participant in the conversation if their phone is in their hand. I’m equally guilty of this when hanging out at times. I’ve been accused of “not being present” because I had my head in my phone while claiming “I’m just looking at my Instagram feed!” Guilty as charged.

Listening serves a number of purposes given the situation and the nature of the communication. According to the website skillsyouneed.com one of the eight purposes to listening is to: “to specifically focus on the message being communicated, avoid distractions and preconceptions.” (I think we need to teach this specifically in schools because no one out there gets the second part of this statement.)

Let’s break this down, I think most people would agree that when you listen its for the purpose to hear someone ‘s message being communicated. But its the rest of the statement which people don’t heed: “avoid distraction and preconceptions”. Wow! Where to begin… I already mentioned the cellphone being a major distraction which I think most people would agree is an obvious barrier to effective listening in all of our lives. But let’s focus on this other part, the “preconceptions”. I don’t think very many people actually listen with an open mind. People have their beliefs and that’s that – my way or the high way. Or so it seems more and more these days.

The second and third purposes of listening is “gain a full and accurate understanding into the speakers point of view and ideas and to critically assess what is being said.” Wait a minute, this is particularly where for me listening deviates from hearing since when you hear something it’s just automatic, when you are listening you have to know take that information and actually processes what is being said.

The fourth purpose of listening includes the power of observation. When you listen to someone you should be looking at them, observing the non-verbal signals accompanying what is being said. This enhances your understanding of what’s going on.

Fifth on the list of purposes of listening, is to show interest, concern and concentration. If you have ever been a public speaker and stood before an audience – big or small, or even if you are talking to your best friend – there is nothing worse than talking to the top of someone’s head because their attention is more on their phone than what you are saying. which leads to the sixth reason which is to encourage the speaker to communicate fully, openly and honestly. Something which can be difficult if you think the people you are trying to talk to are not fully present.

When you are “multi-tasking” while listening to someone else, you are being selfish, rather than taking a selfless approach, in putting the speaker first. Lastly, one of the biggest reasons for listening is to be able to arrive at a shared and agreed understanding and acceptance of both sides’ views. This last reason proves to me that no one in politics actually listens to one another.

This year I am trying much harder to put my phone down particularly when I am around my family and friends. Emails can wait and certainly word games can be played in quiet moments when I’m alone. When I go out I may have my phone with me in my pocket or purse, but I keep it put away so I’m not distracted nor tempted by it. It’s really the only way to fully listen and pay attention to what’s going on around us. So next time you are talking with a friend and you notice that you are looking more at the top of their head than their eyes, you’ll know they aren’t really listening to you.

“Listening is art that requires

attention over talent,

spirit over ego

and others before self. “

– Dean Jackson

The Fine Art of Communication

I’ve been reading a bunch of stuff lately about various people’s life stories.  Yesterday I finished reading a novel by yet another of my incredibly gifted old classmates, Kim Green entitled, hallucination. Its touching story about a woman’s life journey flows effortlessly off the pages, or in my case my Kindle screen.

In some ways, I could relate to main character, Morgan, she too attended an upper east side private girls school.  Originally I thought that would be all I would share with this character when I was first introduced to her. But as got to know her more through this beautiful story I discovered we share a love of dancing, music, travel, children and writing.  I don’t share her struggles however I, too have gone through my own failed marriage and deal with my own dysfunctional family.

I understand what’s it like to begin a life with someone – a life with so much hope for the future, just to watch it disintegrate despite your best efforts.  One person can not save a marriage. A marriage is an intimate relationship which when one partner ceases to be involved in the caring, communicating and nurturing  – it falls apart.  This need for communicating is not reserved simply for preserving relationships of husbands and wives.

I have a brother who lives in New York City who I only see on the occasional holiday now.  We used to very close as kids but our busy life paths took us very far apart and unfortunately have kept us that way – at least for now.  We hardly talk on any sort of regular basis. Matter of fact, its been so long that to pick up the phone would be weird. Plus who ever knows when its a good time to talk. So a few months ago I decided to start sending the occasional text to see if I could break the ice and get the conversation flowing again. It’s kind of working I guess – there has been some exchange – a step in the right direction considering we didn’t have even that before. So I’ll take it as a positive.

The need for communicating between family members is as important in maintaining those relationships as it is with your friends.  I have a friend who if I want to hear from her I have to initiate the call. This has gone on for years and years because I let it. But she has shunned the electronic world and my best efforts to get together, so we don’t talk so much anymore unfortunately.  I don’t enjoy talking on the phone too much. I find it difficult to single-handedly multitask during a busy day.  If the conversation is long my elbow gets stiff and aches the rest of the day. I still ache from my 45 minutes phone conversation I had with my sister six hours ago! If its not face-to face, my main form of communicating with people is via text or chat behind one of our word or dice games we play on our phones.

Some people were hesitant to get on board with email and now they hate texting or don’t know how to do it,  or they don’t do social networking.  To each their own but I couldn’t do it. My son is in college and he calls me weekly. His phone conversation skills are improving.  We text each other intermittently and we also follow each other on Facebook and Instagram.  I am part of his conversation with the “social world”.

I find having an ongoing dialogue important particularly with my children. This can get difficult as grow up, go to college and eventually leave home and start their own family. If this is their way of communicating, I must join in. Recently as we were preparing for Hurricane Sandy,  I started a family group text which included my parents, siblings and a sister-in-law to make it easier to stay in touch in case anyone lost phones and power. Everyone in the family who lives Connecticut lost power whereas the New York contingency didn’t.  My parents liked the intermittent exchanges of stray comments and photos they asked us to keep the conversation going after the power outages were over. They said they left more a part of our daily lives and less isolated. As a parent of a child who lives away at college I have a better understanding of this now.

In Kim’s book, Morgan’s father repeatedly pleads for his daughter’s attention demanding more frequent phone calls as her life path takes her across the country away from him and the home she grew up in.  That’s our role in life as parents, to raise our children so they an stand on their own two feet and start their own families. It’s just as parents we’d like to hear from our all too busy children from time to time. So if that’s a quick text, then so be it. The conversation still continues at least, even if in short snippets.

“A little consideration, a little thought for others, makes all the difference.” Winnie the Pooh

Peace – Xine S.