Effective Listening

word of month character

I wanted to add to a little bit of what I had mentioned in a earlier post.  Mainly I want to revise what may of been misinterpreted as “listen and try to understand everything that is said” to a more conventional statement of “try your best to be mindful of what you hear and what is said, but hey, no one’s perfect”.  It would be a bit much to ask that we all start today by going out and investing 100% of our energy into making each conversation we have with someone meaningful.  The fact is that we are busy people in a busy world, so let me talk about what I think we all can do (today) in this busy world of ours.
If you know anything about me, one thing is I enjoy talking. I pride myself in it.  Not my ability to talk, but to talk well.  Sometimes I go off a bit and lose track but I hold no shame in admitting that when it comes down to trying to explain why I think something is important or how to do a certain task to someone, I know how to say it and how to get it across in a way that is meaningful.  Most of the time that is……. There are those times when I lose this ability and I, like many others, just talk.  This happens when I get tired of listening to myself or listening to others.  If you listen to me, it is not uncommon for me to stop a class and ask “Did I say to do _______ ?”  This is because I will say something in my head and when I say it out loud, I often do not hear me say what I was thinking.  As much as I talk, I have to listen just as much.  I listen with great attention.  This is the hardest part of my job by all means.  I am in a position where many problems can come up and when these problems happen, I will most likely hear about it one way or another.  When someone comes up to me with a concern or even a question, there are a few different ways I, or anyone, can handle this situation.
One way of listening is just to let someone talk to you while you make no attempt to pay attention.  Think about when you ask someone you know to help you with something as they are doing another task that involves so much of their attention that there is no way that they could be listening to you in any degree.  They are probably not even looking at you.  We’ll call this way the “family approach” because rarely would one do this to a stranger or someone they hardly know.  We tend to use this approach to those we know well enough that we are not worried about being polite or those that we have come accustomed to shutting out at certain times.
Another way is that you can decide to listen but not to pay attention.  Does your child ever talk to you and you just stare and them aimlessly as you think about whether you remembered to lock the garage door or not or if your baby sitter will arrive on time?  This approach may be called the “public approach” because it is best used when we come in contact with people who we may not see everyday or all the time and we at least try to make an attempt to appear to be listening.
Selective listening is another way to listen.  Maybe we had a long day or just cannot hold onto an entire conversation but for whatever reason we chose to only hear parts of the conversation that seem relevant to us.  We can call this the “honest effort” approach because we may be trying, but we are not giving our full attention to what is being said.
Our final way of listening is described by M. Scott Peck as an approach that requires our full attention to each word and sentence that is being said.  We are in the present moment and right now the moment is in this conversation and the speaker.  I will call this the “hero approach” because you must truly be someone special to use this type of listening all the time.
In all honesty, no you do not have to be a hero.  But if you put your whole focus on the majority of conversations people have with you, you are special.  I can’t do it.  I come in contact with so many people each day that have so many concerns that sometimes I just have to resort to one of the other approaches just to get me through the next class.  This is allowed.  It requires a balance of all four approaches.  Sometimes children say some things that make no sense or that are not relevant to us at the time.  How frustrating it would be to decide to put all your focus on your 6 year old child for three minutes and to only get out of it that “pokemon are cool.”  There is probably no metaphysical meaning of that statement, it simply is what it is.  But heres the thing: children act out of reason.  Even when your children say things that seem to hold no meaning, they are doing so for a reason.  The statement itself could hold no meaning, but the reason behind saying it could be meaningful.  More then likely it is for attention or to feel valued.  Scolding your child for interrupting you when you are having a conversation with another adult is not always the right decision.  The right decision is trying to make an honest effort to listen to your child.  If you want to show your child that you care for them, care for what they have to say.  The more you show them that you value them, the more they will say things of value.  And if you can reach this point, then in time, you will notice that what your children has to say can often be quite extraordinary.  Not only will you begin to realize how intelligent and bright they are, but you will also learn more about them and thus be able to teach them effectively.  At the end of all this, when your child understands that you respect and value what they have to say, they will value what you have to say.  And while those interruptions during “adult conversations” will still occur, maybe now they will happen less or if we truly value their input, maybe we will realize what they have to say is important.
As you go about your day or your week, ask yourself how many times someone asks you to repeat something or even how many times someone says “I’m sorry I did not catch all of that?” or “what do you mean?”.  If the amount of times is 0, then everyone is either great listeners or great speakers.  Let’s assume that not everyone is great at both but simply average.  My question to you is what can we do to change this then?

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