Hello everyone and welcome not just to a new( well relatively new) week, but also a new month and new quarter. Its also the beginning of the new school year and for some reason even though I left school a long while ago, the new academic year always leaves me with the feeling of a new season. Also for those of us in western climes, its getting closer to the Autumn( Fall in North America). Even though it’s no longer warm,autumn is my favourite season. Its not that cold and its not that hot and most importantly for hay fever sufferers like me , no more pollen! I absolutely love the colour of the leaves as they turn gold/yellow and begin to fall away. I am always thankful for new seasons and truly believe that even the ones that we tend not to celebrate all have their purpose. I will stop my autumn ramblings here but I hope one more person gets excited about it turning colder.
As I have shared in so many other of my posts, I am a naturally a very talkative person. As I grow older though I realise that one of the biggest disadvantages of talking a lot is that listening often takes a back burner. And if I want to be a life long learner I realised that listening is a skill that I must master. Listening and listening well is often the precursor to learning new things. A lot of times we think being a good communicator is about how well we can speak and sell our thoughts and ideas to others. But in the true sense of it communication is two way , giving and receiving information. And to effectively receive information, truly listening and understanding what is being said must be prioritised. Listening in the true sense of it is often hampered by our cognitive biases and these biases often hamper how well we receive information.The dictionary definition of a cognitive bias is; a mistake in reasoning, evaluating, remembering, or other cognitive process, often occurring as a result of holding onto one’s preferences and beliefs regardless of contrary information.
The bolded part of the definition is what I believe is one of the major reasons why we don’t listen well. A lot of times on certain issues, we are not listening to actually receive information but to respond as we have already made up our minds regarding a certain topic or issue. Now this is not say that listening well means that you will always agree with everything that you hear. It does not even mean that you will always learn something worthwhile. The point of listening well is to open up ourselves to the possibility that we might not a)know it all b) have missed an angle or point c) be actually wrong? You might disagree with a person fundamentally over some issues and also what they stand for but are we disagreeing because we have taken the time out to actually listen or are we just disagreeing based on what we think of when we see them or think we hear when they speak?
Is there really anyone who is right all of the time? How many times have you listened or been involved in a conversation where you learnt that something that you had previously thought was true was actually false? I cant count how many times I have learnt something about or from my children that I would have missed when I just calmed down and actually listened to them. When I say ‘calm down’ I actually mean that in a literal sense, as my default position (especially as I am the authority figure in that relationship)is to get them to listen to me. Not the other way round.
This was my prompt to write this post as I had one of such revelations this weekend. My daughter told me something that she had mentioned to me a lot of times but I had often brushed off because I really wasn’t listening to what she was saying. The default was ‘she is a child what does she really know about this issue?’
How often do we really listen to those who we have authority over? And by listening I mean not just to respond but to actually asses what is being said. To digest it by resisting the urge to retort? To reflect and to think and take on board the validity of certain parts of the opposing opinion? To think about how the other party is processing or seeing the same thing maybe from a different angle or from their own perspective?
As I said it is something that we all struggle with and so I thought to share a few things that can help us listen well.
- To listen well we need to avoid/ minimise distractions: It is no coincidence that the day I was able to hold the conversation with my daughter and listen to what she had to say to me was the time I put my phone away. And before we demonise social media & screen time( and I am not saying they are not the greatest distraction of the modern world) distractions come in various forms. How many times do we say ‘hello how are you ‘ at an event and are not even really listening to the reply as our attention has shifted to another person across the room. Distractions come in various forms and it is one of the major things that hinders from us actually listening well. If you intend to learn from a conversation, it is worth making sure that you avoid or minimise distractions. I know we women are proud of our multi tasking abilities, but if you want to really listen well, it might be best to do one thing at time. The best conversations are those where all parties are fully present. So yes while I am not totally blaming our gadgets, it is a good idea to put away the phone when having that dinner or coffee, or listening to that sermon in church ,don’t read the paper when talking to your wife etc.
- Try not judge until comprehension is complete: We live in a world of snap judgments that has been exacerbated by the 140 character twitter world that we now live in. A lot of times we stop listening before we even comprehend the full context of what we have just heard. As soon as we hear a couple of things that seem ‘controversial’ or against what we know or believe,we immediately shut down and tend not engage some sort reflection before either agreeing or disagreeing with what has been said by the speaker. To be fair, we do hear a lot of words in the course of everyday life and it is highly unrealistic to expect that we will be able to comprehend every thing that we hear. However, the ability to learn and make rational decisions is often dependent on covering all bases. To effectively counter an argument, you need to understand what the actual argument is and that can only come from fully listening to ALL parts of the argument before coming to a conclusion.
- Judge the message and not the messenger: How many times do we switch off from actually listening to something that we could actually learn from because of WHO is saying it. The bible is one of my favourite books and one of the wise sayings from Jesus was ‘ A prophet has no honour in his hometown’. The people from his hometown failed to listen to his message as he did not fit the mould of who they thought a messiah could be. Now I agree that people’s precedents cannot be discounted and a lot of times a person’s reputation precedes them. Of the top of my head, I can think of a number of politicians( sorry politicians) or people who I would actually switch off mentally from as they speak. This because as they have shown me with their words and actions that they cannot be trusted. However, while this is understandable ,like Jesus’s compatriots we often have a pre conceived notion of what ‘knowledge’ should look and sound like. Sometimes the answers or information that we seek can be found in the most unlikely place. We can only access this truths and knowledge if we are willing to listen to people that we would not ordinarily listen to. To quote the good book again’ out of the mouth of babes’ has literarily been proven to me so many times when my children have given me insights that I ordinarily would have missed. So try to listen to your staff, your customer, your children, or even the person who you think ‘has no experience’ in that area etc . An example is people who think not being married disqualifies an unmarried person from giving marital advice.They could have an insight into some aspect of human behaviour which marital status cannot confer on them.
- Listen with empathy: I wrote a blog post a couple of weeks ago about empathy and wont go into a lot of detail.Empathy is simply the act of putting yourself in the shoes of another. How would you feel if you were the one not being listened to? I know how irritated i get when i have to repeat myself over and over again. Or how i feel when i someone is not listening to me especially when i feel i am passing across a very important message .How many times do i have to say that the bed is not a towel hanger? Imagine how we would all react if we put ourselves in the shoes of the person who we are listening to? You would pay attention and at least to try to give yourself the benefit of the doubt. You would also probably be willing to discuss issues in a more civil way even if you disagree with what is being said. A lot of the disagreements we have on social issues eg politics,theology, lifestyle would be less contentious if more of us could empathise with the other party even if we don’t agree with them.
I will stop here as I feel even mastering just one of the above will make us better listeners.
Just to note that I will now publishing blog posts bi-weekly. The next couple of months are going to be quite busy for me and so it might be difficult to keep up the consistency of articles by writing weekly. In order to keep using this as a creative outlet I have decided that it is better to commit to doing it less rather than not at all.
As always thank you so very much for reading. The encouragement from you all has been so much and I can only say thank you again and God bless you.
Have a lovely Tuesday and September
Photo credits – Pinterest