We listen all the time: to the radio, television podcasts, especially to family and friends.
Isn’t listening the same for all these activities?
Listening to family, friends and business acquaintances is a very different process than listening to media sources. When we interact with others we establish a dialogue that is critical to a shared relationship. To make that interaction meaningful, we have to listen with more than our ears.
In a recent New York Times article, Pamela Soileau, a hospice nurse and chaplain is quoted as saying, “Words are important, but they are not everything. Sometimes it’s just your presence and your willingness to listen that speaks volumes.”
You can read a past article on this website I wrote about listening with your eyes: how to connect with someone else besides using words. What You Mean Is In Your Eyes, Not Only In Your Words. The act of listening involves making an emotional contact with someone else, from the basic to the profound. We don’t always respond with words — sometimes words are not appropriate — but we need to interact so that a meaningful dialogue takes place.
Many times we’re unsure how to respond the “right” way to a friend or colleague who expresses a loss or bad news. What words do we use? Is there another way to convey our feelings? Yes, we can nod, sigh or show understanding through our eyes. During the pandemic, this face-to-face dialogue may have to depend on Zoom or another online platform. If we can’t see each other, there are phone calls, a time-tested form of communication, where the most basic of words, ” yes, uh huh, I understand” or an exhalation can fill the need for listening and responding.
The key to “listening well” is inviting someone to share their thoughts and giving them time to express themselves. It means making sure they know you are present, even if you have never experienced their situation. When you fully engage in listening, it’s likely the other person will be there for you at another time when you need an open ear.
Dialogue is listening and responding, giving and receiving.
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