“One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say.” — Bryant H. McGill
We are taught to come up with our own ideas, and share them with others. We try our best to articulate our message in a clear way so that others can understand us and what we are trying to say. Being able to create and share ideas with detail is important. Yet, there is another reason people are not picking up on the message you want to share. The reason is because people are only listening with their ears.
Listening on a basic level is rather easy. We hear what the other person has to say and reply. There is also genuine listening. Genuine listening requires the ears, as well as your body, energy, and full attention.
When we listen on a basic level, we are also creating our reply in the background. As we use mental energy to make a reply in the background, we sacrifice mental energy to genuinely listen. Many times, this all occurs unconsciously and we don’t even realize it. Similar to predictive keyboards on smartphones, our brains tend to have an auto-predict mode where we try and predict what the other person is trying or going to say before they finish saying it. Once auto-predict is done, we may lose interest and become impatient to share our reply. Sometimes, we are so caught up in sharing our reply that we cut off the other person’s message, preventing them from fully saying what they have to say.
On the surface, it would seem that basic listening is better. After all, we only need our ears to get the job done and we have a reply instantly ready to keep the conversation going. Although things are not always as they seem. When we create our reply, we aren’t paying as much attention listening to what the other person has to say. Auto-predict may seem helpful, but it is not as informative compared to genuinely listening. Not only do you risk not hearing the person’s full message when you focus on your reply and use auto-predict, but your reply might have been better if you fully listened to the other person.
Now let’s examine genuine listening. In genuine listening, you don’t have to come up with an instant reply because you are focused on listening to the speaker.You don’t even have to use auto-predict. This means that you don’t have to think of a reply while the other person is talking. Sometimes, you don’t even have to craft a full reply at all. By providing a short phrase that acknowledges you are listening, you are allowing the other person to continue to share their message, while gaining a deeper understanding of the meaning behind their words. Over time, this can also help you gain a deeper understanding of the person you are speaking with. This type of listening does not mean that you can never reply or provide input. Instead, it allows the other person to feel understood and appreciative of your kind gesture to fully listen. If you do decide to give the other person a full reply at the appropriate time after genuinely listening, they are more likely to respect your time to talk and give more attention to your words, ideas, and feelings.
Genuine listening requires the ears, body, energy, and full attention because there are so many aspects of communication that ears alone cannot cover. Facial expressions and body language are two important modes of communication that ears do not pick up on. By using our energy and undivided attention, we can pick up on subtle hints that can play a big role in someone’s message like pace, volume, emphasis, pitch, and pausing. If we are not giving our full energy and attention to the conversation, these hints can easily be overlooked. Research has shown that we can not multitask, but rather switch our attention between multiple tasks. Genuine listening uses single tasking to gather as much information from the conversation as possible.
Technology is great, as it provides means to communicate with others in a way the world has never seen before. Yet, technology also comes with a price that is beyond financial. We get addicted to our devices and have our eyes, and attention, aimed at our devices rather than the person beside us that is trying to talk with us. Texting is an extremely popular method of communication, but provides us with very limited information. We only get the words that the person is saying, without getting the emotion that is usually attached to the words and conveyed through body language, facial expressions, pace, volume, emphasis, pitch, and pausing. Some may argue that each person has their own texting style, just like each person has their own communication style. Smartphones, tablets, and computers also have an option to send emoticons to help give the words additional meaning. Texting is easy, but it’s also easier to misinterpret the meaning of a message, hide your true thoughts and feelings, and provide a communication style that does not accurately represent you.
Now I am not saying that we should abandon technology, or not use technology to communicate. Instead, we need to remember to do our best to genuinely listen, whatever form of communication we are using. Ask questions at the appropriate time. Ask for clarification and to confirm that you understand what message the other person is conveying. Give them your full and undivided attention. If you want to reply to a person’s comment, do so at the appropriate time after genuinely listening. When there is an important conversation that needs to take place, try to have it in person. If in person is not possible, try the next best option, such as video chat. If neither option works, a phone call is good. Select the best options that you can pick up on as many methods of communication to gain the most information.
Genuine listening is important. In order to genuinely listen, we pay attention to what the other person is saying, while avoiding distraction, quieting our defenses, and put understanding the other person as the first priority. When we genuinely listen, we understand. When we understand, when we have this knowledge, we can have empathy. When we have empathy, we can build a better connection, conversation, and relationship with the person we are speaking to. Give it a try, you might learn something new. After all, there are teachers all around you. Listen to them. Listen openly. Listen freely. Listen genuinely.
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