Youre in the midst of confiding to your co-worker that your teen may be suspended from school, but you notice shes checking her email and reapplying lipstick as you speak. Shes not listening to what youre saying.
According to Julian Treasure, author of the book Sound Business, listening is the act of making meaning out of sound. In a 2011 TED Talk, he explained that 60 percent of our communication time is spent listening, yet we retain a mere 25 percent of what we hear.
In fact, were in danger of losing the ability to listen. We now have infinite methods of gathering information, none of which require us to listen. Were also subjected to an increasingly cacophonous environment that causes us to filter out unwanted noises.
Our waning interest in listening is having a devastating impact on our relationships. Conscious listening is the way we understand our loved ones.
Truly grasping the gist of what theyre saying and responding in a sincere, I-hear-you mode, strengthens our emotional connection. We learn whats important to those closest to us. We say, You are important to me.
At the same time, we demonstrate personal presence. We make ourselves available to share whatever joys or problems theyre experiencing. Careful listening says, Im here with you. You are not alone.
Too often, the listening process is disrupted. We cant wait for the other person to stop talking so that we can talk about ourselves. We give unwanted advice or talk about a similar situation we heard about on NPR.
Some folks dominate conversational airwaves, never allowing others to speak.
Others are quick to change the subject, tell a joke or state an opinion.
The result is a sense of disconnection, as if someone just hung up the phone. If that happens over and over, the listener may eventually choose to call on someone else.
The Greek philosopher Epictetus once said, We are given two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.
Following his age-old formula is excellent advice for us all.
HOW TO BE A BETTER LISTENER
Stop what you are doing. Turn off the television. Set down your cellphone. Listening requires your full attention. You cant do two things at once.
Look at the speaker. Make eye contact. Turn your body toward the speaker. Lean in slightly. Your position speaks volumes about your interest in the topic.
Focus only on whats being said. Dont think about what youre going to say next. Youll instantly get distracted. The speaker will notice, too.
Ask open-ended questions. Dont pump the speaker for specific data. This is a conversation, not an interrogation. Make statements that encourage the conversation, such as, Tell me what happened next.
Summarize often. Let the speaker know youre following along. Say, That diagnosis was really scary, or You cant wait for that baby to arrive!
Use gestures and one-word phrases. Good listening involves minimal words. Nonverbal responses include nods, smiles or furrowed brows. Appropriate phrases are Wow! Oh dear, Im so sorry, Uh oh, and Next time.
Avoid relating your own experience. Speakers are in the midst of their own issues. They dont care whats happened to you. If you do have an experience that directly applies, share it sparingly, without diverting attention away from the moment.
Dont interrupt. Interrupting says, My thought is more important than yours, and it forces the conversation to make an abrupt left turn. Save that thought for another time.
Watch your tone. Make sure your inflection is calm, respectful and accepting. Hostility and boredom stop any conversation in its tracks and discourage further dialogue.
Linda Lewis Griffith is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her, visit http://lindalewisgriffith.com.