Jun 092020
 

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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Check back for more articles on communication, speech pathology, writing and executive function skills.

Jun 012017
 
  • Isn’t listening easier than speaking?

  • Aren’t listening and paying attention the same?

Most people will answer “yes” to these two questions.  But listening is actually more complicated than most people realize and in some ways, as difficult a process as expressing yourself.

While you must be paying attention in order to “listen” there are actually two types of listening: active vs. passive listening.

  • What is the difference between active and passive listening?

Passive listening involves acknowledging that another person is talking and following the speaker’s line of reasoning.  What’s missing are two critical steps that transform “passive” listening to “active” listening: assimilation and accommodation.

Assimilation is the process of hearing information and comparing it to your own knowledge, the first key to making the transition to active listening.  The next critical step is accommodation acting on the information by responding to it in some way, which might be finding an example from your own experience that illustrates what is being presented.

For the student in class this can mean listening to the teacher, copying notes from the slide or blackboard, acknowledging an understanding (assimilation), then adding a personal observation to the teacher’s idea, either by jotting it to his/her notes or sharing in the discussion (accommodation.)  The process of accommodation extends the student’s thinking beyond what has already been written or spoken.

In an interview this can be illustrated by listening to the interviewer’s question, understanding the question (assimilation), then taking into account the other person’s point of view and deviating from the response you had prepared to answer a specific question (accommodation.)  The prepared, personal “elevator” speech that does not address the topic or question posed can destroy your chances of being hired, making a sale or achieving a promotion. 

If you answered “yes” to the two questions at the beginning of this article you may be practicing “passive” rather than “active” listening.  If your interactions with others involves more of your own speaking, you may be employing only assimilation by following your own line of thought rather than going to the next step, accommodation.  Transforming what you expect to say to actually responding to the other speaker’s words or questions requires “active” listening.

Consider how much this can affect you in your personal as well as your professional life.  Problems of miscommunication between individuals frequently occurs because one person is employing “passive” listening only, not thoroughly engaging with what someone else has said.  This can be illustrated with the famous words, “I thought you said…” The problem of not assimilating and accommodating another speaker’s words and ideas often lies at the bottom of misunderstanding between individuals.  “Active” listening opens up stronger lines of understanding and communicating.

Being an “active” listener can be the key to success in school, business and personal life.

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Check back soon for more articles on communications, speech pathology, writing and executive function skills