Has Listening Become A Lost Art?
“We interpret events based on our points of view, attitudes, opinions, beliefs, perceptions and assumptions, past experiences, memories and generalizations. All these shape our thinking maps and how we interpret events…positive thinking and negative thinking.”
Communicating is often one of the hardest things we deal with. It can be with those we work with, with family members, or just with people in general. I found Derik Mocke’s quote to be very telling. Everything we have in our heads filters what we read, what we hear and what we see and we respond accordingly…whether with a positive response or a negative one. We also need to learn how to “listen to hear” and not “listen to respond”.
Son and I have learned to stop each other and say “Let me tell you what I am hearing and you tell me if that is what you are saying”. It saves a lot of confusion for us. I am going to use a humorous point to illustrate this..but it is still the same for anything we do. What we hear is not only based on our experiences but on the definitions we have for the words used.
I was sitting at the dinner table one day and son was cooking. I asked him how to defrag my computer. As he cooked, he started calling out directions over his shoulder. I got to the part where he said “defrag volume”. I looked up and said “Son, why do we defrag the sound?” He asked me what I was talking about. I said well…it says “defrag volume” so why do we defrag the sound?” My son started laughing a good belly laugh and said “Mom, that is volume as in quantity…not sound”. But, it illustrates a point. If I have one definition for a word and you have another definition for the same word, we will have misunderstandings.
image from www.keen.com
A friend of mine was telling me about a friend of his and I said “She is very dramatic, isn’t she”. Well, he stopped me and asked me what I meant by “dramatic”. And I explained that I was saying she was very exotic looking. He thought I was calling her a drama queen. See how easily misunderstandings occur.
Everything from our past works as a filter for how we interpret what someone writes or what someone says. And these events from our past can cause us to have many misunderstandings or to read something into writing that is not there. Son and I learned to question if we are not sure. You will never know unless you ask.
Here is another good example, and this one almost ended in a bad argument. We were talking about the electric bill on the other side of the mountain being so high. I started telling my son how something must be wrong as we did not have enough things running to make an electric bill that high. And my son said “Well, I know it is not the electric company.” I became upset because I thought he was saying I was wrong and we said a few things back and forth, and then I threw my hand up and said..”Wait a minute son. Let me tell you what my brain heard and you tell me what you were saying. My brain heard you tell me I was wrong and being ridiculous.” Son got the most shocked look on his face and said….”No, no, no mom..that is NOT what I was saying. I was trying to say it was not the Electric company so it must be something in this house.”
I think when we read things, we need to realize that what we get out of it is from our own experiences. This is why they do not like people who have been robbed to be on the jury for a robbery trial because it might influence their thinking. And sometimes, we need to read things three or four times to make sure we are getting what the person is really writing and not our own slanted view from our past for both positive and negative things influence how we read things.
When we are talking, before getting upset…take the time to stop and say to the other person…”you know, this is what I am hearing in my head…is this what you are saying to me?” I think you might be surprised and find that many an argument might not happen with just that one step. Son and I communicate so much better now that we have learned to do that. And if someone uses a word and it has a negative connotation to you…stop the person and ask them to tell you what the word means to them.
This is how easily one word can cause a misunderstanding. I lived in the Smoky Mountains all my life until my boys were little and we moved to the GA/FL line. Well, where I came from, it was a common expression when someone was aggravating you, to say jokingly “Ok, you are getting on my black list”…meaning you are about to get in trouble. Well jump to me moving to the GA/FL line and living in a small town in South GA and making that statement where the ethnic ratio was not the same as where I had lived before. That word “black” means something entirely different in that little town in south GA. One word caused a bad argument. Finally I made the person understand that I was not making an ethnic slur but that it was a totally different meaning. But, after that…I never used that phrase again for I could see that many would get upset from that area.
image from visionroom.com
So, when something rubs me the wrong way….before I let myself get upset, I ask the person to tell me what they meant or I tell them what I am hearing and ask them is that what they meant. Life is a lot more peaceful that way and it is a lot simpler to ask someone to explain what they mean or to tell them what you are hearing than it is to get in a big fight that turns out to be over nothing. We all have the internal filters from good and bad experiences and it can make us react in the wrong way. And we all are capable of asking the other person to explain what they mean so that communication between us is exactly what was intended.
Learning to listen is a skill. It is not some ability we come with from birth. Hearing and listening are not the same thing. I hear the everyday noises of life here such as cars going by on the street, the birds, etc. This does not mean I am listening to them but that I hear them and notice they are there. And just as learning to listen is a skill, so is listening to hear and understand. Many people listen only enough to get the gist of what is being said and then start interrupting and giving a reply.
Listening to reply is not the same thing as listening to hear what is actually being said. If I am paying attention to the words of the person talking, I will get the whole story or idea that the other person is trying to tell me. If I start formulating a reply, then I lose half of the conversation. And when someone is only listening to reply or to defend themselves or whatever, you know immediately because number one they interrupt you before you are done talking. And number two, they missed the entire point of what you are saying.
Being a good listener requires using several different skills. It requires you to stop the impulse to reply immediately so self-control is necessary. It requires you to think about whether or not the person is saying what you think you are hearing and does the person use the same definition you use for words. And it requires you to have concentration skills. In today’s world where Twitter and other social media go on constantly streaming a lot of meaningless collections of words with a few good ones thrown in there, concentration is hard to do. And face to face talking is literally out the window. People seldom do face to face talking anymore. Social medias have taken away conversation skills and listening skills.
So, how are your listening skills? Do you listen to reply or listen to really hear? Do you care what you are hearing? And when you find yourself getting mad, do you ask yourself if maybe the person is saying something because they see things differently or have different definitions of words? Just some food for thought.
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