Are you really listening?

“His thoughts were slow,

His words were few

And never formed to glisten.

But he was a joy to all his friends –

You should have heard him listen.” 

Quoted by Wayne Mackey (Oklahoma City Times)

In today’s angst-ridden world of fast cars, fast food, fast everything, few of us have the ability to truly listen.  We “listen,” but only to wait until we can jump in with our own story or opinion.  It is said that hearing is a mere faculty; and listening is an art.  Indeed, it seems that hearing has become a “lost art,” so to speak!

When you study Communication Management, one of the first things you learn is that listening is key in order to have a successful partnership, business and/or career.  “Man’s inability to communicate is a result of his failure to listen effectively, skilfully, and with understanding to another person.”  To truly listen and truly understand, means “the process of receiving, constructing meaning from, and responding to spoken and/or non-verbal messages.”  You must learn to listen, to absorb and to ponder before speaking.  Instead of cutting somebody’s sentences off, learn to wait and be more patient.  Basic etiquette is not to interrupt somebody, but to wait until the person has finished talking – and no, not always done by many of us I’m sure!  Especially if we have something exciting or urgent to tell!

As mentioned before, to be successful, you learn that listening is key.   When studying communication management, you learn how to communicate; but not how to be communicated with.  Communication, as we all know, is not just words.  Whatever is being said will be interpreted not from the words being used, but the way it is being said, and the body language.  More than 70% of our communication is non-vocal – it is body language that we read; not the words being uttered.

In today’s world where we are bombarded with advertisements, noise from traffic, loud music, shouting, and so forth, many of us have learned to “shut down” or “tune out” in order to preserve our sanity and regain some peace and quiet.  The irony is that this created a situation where we think we are listening, but in fact we made up our minds before the person starts to speak.  Why?  Because we are sensitive to criticism, we believe it’s either “our way or the highway,” we have preconceived ideas and beliefs, and in true honesty, we are scared of the truth.  When we have to truly listen, even though the person has different views or beliefs than ours, we have to let down our guard as it were and be honest with ourselves.  Many people struggle to accept other people’s views, beliefs and opinions.  Thus, miscommunication happens.   It is not just what is being said, but the way in which it is said (tone of voice, the way you look at a person, your facial expression, and so forth), that can make or break the conversation and, in the end, even the trust and the relationship!

The sad reality for me, is that people start to mistrust one another, they stop being themselves, they stop sharing their dreams and secrets (even with a friend), for fear of being ridiculed or lambasted.  Maybe it is the modern world we live in – think of the movies we watch, what we hear on the radio or television, what we teach our children.  To give somebody your true, pure attention, is one of the greatest gifts.  Whether it is a child telling you the same story, or an adult who is starting to forget and are repeating things, it shouldn’t matter.  To the person who is talking, it is important.  And to share it with somebody whom that person can trust, is all the more reason to really, truly listen.  No judging, no preconceived ideas, no sarcasm.

Why?  Because it takes courage.  It takes courage to let down your guard and show somebody the real you; it takes courage to speak, just as it takes courage to be quiet and just listen.

Where and/or when do we learn to listen?  In the womb!  Scientists have proven that an unborn can be emotionally damaged whilst in the mother’s womb, when parents argue and fight.  On the other hand, healing can occur when soft music is being played to the developing foetus.  When a mother talks to a baby, for example, she can, at times, feel the baby kicking – why?  Because the baby recognizes her voice.  When we truly listen to somebody and when somebody listens to us, we grow and expand.  Yes, we can learn a lot from internet, books, and other materials, but when we allow a conversation to be one of not just babbling but really listening, we can grow and learn from one another.  No 2 people are the same, so why not accept each other regardless of whether we have the same ideas and beliefs or not?

Have you ever wondered why a powerful speaker is so popular?  It is because he / she truly listens.  They speak to our souls whilst listening, as it were, to our body language.  A good listener is somebody who tries to understand what the other person is saying, who listens carefully with what it is that he / she disagrees with, before speaking.  It takes a unique person to want to hear what he doesn’t want to hear.  After all, one of the basic human needs is to understand and be understood.

Instead of listening to your own inner voice and to decide, beforehand, what you are going to say, listen to what is being said, without your inner voice “chipping in.”

Our whole world and outlook on life can change if we have that one person, a friend, confidante, parent or partner, who takes the trouble to listen; it is someone who is not only popular but well informed.  When you know that the person that you are talking to is a good listener, you will automatically become more at ease, be willing to “open up” and share your feelings, dreams and thoughts. 

Like a camera our human brains also have filters used during communication, for example our experience, education, language, emotions, attitudes, and outside influences.  Knowing and understanding your filters will help you to maximise your communication and listening success.  Words, in the end, have no meaning; it is the person saying it that does.  However, because many people assume that people think or believe the same, misunderstandings can often crop up.  Unfortunately, our sensory mechanisms have been dulled by our parents, environment, our own fears, and the modern world we live in.

However, these mechanisms are not lost; they merely need to be re-awakened!  We have all been blessed with an invisible shield, also known as our aura.  This is like our inner voice works as a guide when we listen; telling us whether the information is true, important or of value.  Think of the saying “put yourself in somebody else’s shoes – “when you, as a listener, is attentive to not just what is being said, but the way it is said and notice the body language, then you are a powerful listener!  Listen not just with your ears, but also with your heart, your eyes and your aura (inner voice).

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