I don’t know if it’s because spring is in the air (not according to New England but the calendar says so), if it’s that lives have gotten busier with spring activities or if it’s just the nature of the beast…Whatever it may be, I have found that there seems to be a disconnect with listening in my life. Maybe they are tired of hearing my voice, maybe I am tired of hearing me. Regardless, I am NOT being heard.
But I am not alone! From my brother and his family to friends to countless others from what I read on social media to my doggies, there is a lot of ‘not listening’ going on. So it got me thinking. Why is that? Is it me? Is it them? Is it some sort of social epidemic? What the heck is the cause of no one opening up their ears? How am I contributing? How can I-please-just-make-it-stop??? And, in my research, I found out I am definitely a part of the problem. But I am also a large part of the solution. So from adults to parents to just people that are a part of a community, there is something to be gained from this. Are you listening???
The ability to listen is arguably the most important communication tool that there is. I don't care if you’re talking personally, academically or professionally, the ability to listen is going to make you or break you. Inspire others or deter them. Academically, students that are better listeners, have good listening habits - they typically see a greater academic achievement. Good communication and interpersonal skills can also give college grads a leg up with potential employers.
Poor listening skills in the professional environment present substantial challenges. We all know that one employee that knows it all. Has all the answers. And typically it’s that one employee that no one wants to work with, collaborate with, sit next to at lunch. From a promotional standpoint, employees with good listening skills and communication skills are often more likely to get to the next level than those that don’t listen and can’t effectively communicate and collaborate with others.
And personally - listening has an effect on every aspect of our personal life. We listen to our spouses, our children, our friends. We pour our hearts and our aspirations and our troubles out to those that will take the time to listen to us. Think about it. How many times have you just needed someone to be quiet and listen to you? I was in that pit all last week. Just needed to be heard. Good communication, good listening within our family and personal relationships helps us manage the stresses that affect those relationships and this in turn helps those relationships from kicking the bucket. It shows those that we love the most THAT WE LOVE THEM. Because we make the time to hear them. To listen to them. Listening is mucho importanto.
Listening Types and Purpose and My Life
There are essentially four different types of listening and all four of them are important. In fact, we have all at some point in time throughout our days engaged in all four types. These four types of listening are crucial for our individual understanding of how we can not only communicate better but maybe why people respond the way they do when we are trying to be listened to. I personally was not a fan as I was a little bit shamed to realize I am a part of the problem. Hear me out.
Informational listening is all about understanding and retaining what we hear. Listening to a teacher, getting directions, weather reports, instructions from a professor - informational listening is how we recall what we’re supposed to do and how we’re supposed to do it. It is most definitely a skill in my opinion and one of the most valuable tools we will use throughout our entire life from school to adulting.
Purpose of Informational Listening
The purpose of information listening I think is to prepare you for professional life. It starts at a young age with instructions being given in the written form, a tangible way for students to partake in informational listening. As you progress, you train your brain to comprehend and retain without the benefit of it being in written form. Think about when you get an assignment at work. Does your boss hand you detailed instructions and a how to? Ummmm. Generally not. You are expected to come prepared to take any notes that you feel you will need or remember any vital information while LISTENING to your supervisor.
My Life - Write it down
I was not the best of students. I had potential to be a great student but never really applied myself. One of the benefit of having children is the hope that you can take what you did wrong and help your own children do it right. From a very young age, my three little trolls have been nagged at to write it down. Take notes. Use flashcards. SHOW YOUR WORK. I am a believer that when you hear it then you write it - you are just taking an extra step to help cement it in your mind. I can tell you it was key for troll #1 as she is to this day a big note taker and user of flashcards and I attribute that practice of learning how to listen and record the vital necessities as one of her biggest reasons for success her first year of college.
I laugh at this one because I think it is the one that applies most to families and interpersonal relationships. With critical listening, you basically analyze what you hear and decide what that message means - accept it, reject it, get more info. We see it with the media, you will find it when you are trying to persuade someone over to your line of thinking. The credibility of whom we are listening to factors in considerably when we decide whether or not we will be accepting or rejecting the message.
Purpose of Critical Listening
I think with critical listening, the purpose is to prepare you for having children or significant others or for situations where you need to have and display the confidence and belief in yourself. Whether you are persuading a child to eat a plate of peas and explaining the health benefits, talking about a family budget with a spouse that doesn’t understand where the money goes or supporting your stance on a political issue, your credibility is assessed. On the flip side, critical listening is key when listening to those in our life that we feel are objective or have our best interests at heart.
My Life - Trust Your Ears
I have to use my brother as an example for this as this just took place this past weekend. Said brother has a young troll at the "know everything" stage of middle school. And due to a wrestling injury, my brother bought some magnets that were supposed to help with the injury. Thing is - there is some very uncool headgear that is included with the magnets in order to prevent them from getting lost. Not to be worn to school mind you - just to bed. Despite my brother being one of the most sensible people I know, said nephew troll did not use his critical listening and proceeded to wear the magnets to bed sans the headgear. Said magnets ended up in the belly of their golden retriever. Which meant an emergency vet visit Easter weekend. And surgery. $$$ A costly and emotional lesson, my guess is troll numero uno for my brother will place a little more belief that Dad has his best interests at heart.
This is what we all do every day. We multi-task and use our ears to discriminate for particular sounds. It’s the most basic form of listening. We walk the dog at night but keep our ears open for noises around us. We drive our cars but listen for the thumping of a low tire. We work out for 45 seconds but listen for the buzzer telling us it’s our 15 seconds of rest. We bring home a surprise for our child and watch for their eyes to light up. With discriminative listening, we engage with life and wait for those particular cues - both visual and auditory. This particular type of listening is the one most easily refined.
Purpose of Discriminative Listening
As I said, we are multi-taskers. And life is crazy and busy and hectic and we strive to make the most of our hours and our minutes. And discriminative listening allows us to do just that. Think about it. I personally will often try to get one more chore in while dinner is in the oven, focusing on folding laundry, catching up with my husband while listening for the timer telling me to gather that masses for chow. We wait for the ping on our phone telling us we’ve received a text, the special ringtone letting us know our loved one is calling, the smile on your child’s face when they see you in the stands - basic listening but it’s from those basics that we create the foundation for the rest of our listening skills.
My World - Give A Ring
Our life in many ways revolves around my husband and his job. His phone is basically an extension of his body and the only way in which he is contacted when duty calls. Every event, every outing, every night - that phone is charged and ready. And I am highly tuned in, listening always to when that phone rings and I hear him say, “Yes, sir.” He signed up for it, he is great at what he does and yes, it has impacted our family in ways that are great and ways that are eh. Our day can change in an instant with the ring of that phone. So yes, I’m honed in and can pick up the sound of that ringer from across a room, in the middle of a dead sleep, during a workout.
Empathetic listening is where we try to feel or understand what others are thinking or feeling based off of what they tell us. Not to be confused with sympathetic. Empathetic listening is other person oriented and comes from the heart. When we practice empathetic listening we really make an attempt to understand where the other person is coming from, to “feel into” their situation.
Purpose of Empathetic Listening
This is a hard one and I personally at times get empathy and sympathy mixed up. Often times when we are in the middle of listening to someone else talk about their particular problem, our first reaction is to tell them our own story. Give them our advice, tell them what worked for us, let them know we feel for them. We aren’t really making the opportunity to understand what they are feeling. Empathetic listening is key to our relationships with those that we are close to. The ability to connect with our spouse and our children but to also take a step back and EMPATHIZE with their side of the story. Make an effort to understand why they think or feel what they do. If you take a step back, hold yourself accountable, how often do we fail at doing that?
My World - Hey Brother
I am blessed to have a close relationship with my brother. Despite a five year difference in ages, we have been close for most of my life and we are good friends in addition to being siblings. Life has thrown me some curve balls in recent weeks and, in particular, Friday was a rough day. And as he has a way of doing, my brother empathized with what I was feeling and talked me off the proverbial edge. Didn’t say I was wrong for how I felt, didn’t talk about his experiences, simply listened for several minutes to my verbal vomit and said, “I’m sorry for what you’re going through.” He got it. Didn’t tell me what to do but simply said he understood. Let me know he HEARD me. And it turned my day around 1000%.
Life is gonzo. It’s cray cray and busy and we have schedules upon schedules and appointments and obligations. And we rarely take the time to listen, to slow down and really hear what our friends, our loved ones, others are trying to say. I am guilty. We need to do it. We need to be more aware. And take a few minutes and think about your communication cues that YOU are giving out. Are you the person in the office that’s avoided? Are you always busy talking about yourself, interjecting your own experience, sympathizing but not empathizing with others? Promise yourself that the next time you’re in a conversation with someone, your child, your spouse, our boss - don’t multi-task. Give them 100% of your full attention. Turn off the vacuum, turn away from the Xbox, put down the remote.
No one ever said that they wished that hadn't spent so much time talking and listening to a loved one. Open up your ears. Commit to becoming a better listener, a better communicator, a better version of you. It’s an investment you won’t regret!