Vail Daily column: Are you a good listener?
Special to the Daily
Vail, CO Colorado
“We were given two ears but only one mouth, because listening is twice as hard as talking.”
I don’t know who said this, but he or she was a wise person! Don’t you sometimes wish that people had even more than two ears? I sometimes do, though I have to say, maybe those people wouldn’t listen even if they had 20 ears, because listening is not what they want to do!
I have written in earlier articles about how one of the wonderful things about therapists is that they are trained to listen. Indeed, I have found that at times in my life, I was quite willing to pay hundreds of dollars to have someone listen to me! What is so powerful about good listening? Good listening leads to effective communication. You can’t have one without the other. So are you a good listener? What would your friends, family and children say?
There are different kinds of listening that we all do at different times and with different people.
There is the not-very-effective, and frequently destructive, combative or competitive listening. This is when we are more interested in expressing our own point of view than in understanding someone else’s. You see that at parties frequently, when you may be telling a story and someone interrupts you and does a “one upmanship.” You see that often when people are fighting, when one person or both people are looking for openings to attack. Instead of listening, a person is busy planning their rebuttal or comeback. There is no room for real communication in these cases, because at least one person is not listening.
There are also passive listeners. These people listen, but do not respond. They may or may not hear what has been said. They leave the speaker wondering if they have been heard and understood.
Active or reflective listening is the most powerful and important listening skill. In active listening, we are genuinely interested in what the person is saying, feeling, communicating, and before we respond, we verify that we have heard correctly. It’s the “Is this what you’re saying?” question. We all know that there is a distinct difference between hearing the words that are being communicated and really listening to the message. The message may be an account of facts, thoughts or beliefs, emotions, wants or needs, or hopes and expectations. When we listen effectively, we understand what the person is thinking and/or feeling from the other person’s perspective. This means that we get out of ourselves and put ourselves in the other person’s shoes. What we feel or think at this point is not relevant from the listening standpoint. To listen effectively, we must get out of ourselves.
Examine those situations in which listening has not been easy for you. How often does someone say to you “you’re not listening” or “you’re not hearing what I’m saying”? This happens not infrequently between partners and between parents and children. Imagine how the communication would be different if you put yourself into the other person’s shoes. Imagine how powerful it would be if you set aside your own feelings, thoughts and judgments and really focus on what is being said. In this sense, good listening skills require a high level of self-awareness.
Listening in some ways is such a simple act. It requires us to be present and this sometimes takes practice. When we listen actively, we create moments in which real communication and healing can occur. I have so often seen and experienced the healing power of good listening.
And I love the biblical passage from Matthew 18:20 : “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” This passage describes for me the sacredness of moments of true listening.
Elizabeth Myers is the executive director of the Samaritan Counseling Center. She can be reached at 970-926-8558. Visit the Center’s website at http://www.samaritan-vail.org for more information.
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