Do You Hear What I Hear?

Hand up to an ear to illustrate the word "listen"

“One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what the another has to say.”

– Bryant H. McGill

Most of us have done it. We joined the Zoom meeting and purposely left our camera off or our sound muted. It could have been an online staff meeting, a training, or a webinar. The bottom line is, we were there to learn or do something, but we were checked out intellectually and probably emotionally.

There is some amount of burnout involved in consciously or unconsciously checking out. Online interactions are pretty impersonal. Some are just unnecessary. However, this barely-being-present mode also occurs in our person-to-person interactions. We find ourselves tuned out of conversations at work and/or at home.

Don’t our families and colleagues deserve better? Don’t we?

Why Have We Stopped Listening?

“Oh the noise! Oh the noise, noise, noise, noise! There’s one thing I hate: oh the noise, noise, noise, noise!”

– Dr Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas

Our history is full of examples of how different cultures have approached meaningful conversation. For example, beginning around the 17th century in Italy, the Salon became a popular and safe place to share and debate ideas. This practice was said to have brought about the intellectual and philosophical movement called The Enlightenment.

Another method is the ‘talking stick’ (or speakers stick), a tool still used by many indigenous cultures to the present day. It demands a specific code of conduct when it is used in a meeting. The Elder speaks first and the person who holds the stick is the only one with the right to speak. Others are expected to listen silently with respect.

Have we lost all of the past lessons on conducting a civilized debate? Today our connections to each other are far more complex, and it is not practical to walk around with a talking stick in our hands! The lone phone attached to our kitchen wall has given way to the ability to speak to each other over multiple electronic devices at any time of the day and in any spot around the world.

The truth is, with all of this access and convenience at our fingertips, there are many more barriers to healthy communication than our ancestors could have dreamed. An article by Psych Central cites a list of possible reasons why we find it so difficult to listen to each other – they include:

• Emotional reactions
• Boredom
• Wanting to give advice
• Distraction
• Waiting to tell your story
• Trying to just ‘make things better’

It is easy to identify with some of the factors on this list. Another interesting possibility is the overestimation of our understanding of either the topic of discussion or the person who is speaking. In both cases, we think we know what they mean just because we are so familiar with them or have some experience with the topic. We don’t pause to see if we really ‘got it’ and simply move on with our preconceived, yet incorrect notions.

Key Elements to Truly Hearing Each Other

“The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said.”

– Peter Drucker

Anyone who is familiar with my book, 5 Senses for Success: Strategies to Thrive in Any Arena, will know that Listening is one of the senses I cover extensively. I purposely did not use the more commonly used term – Hear. Hearing can occur without actually listening. “Even though we may not intentionally listen to everything and everyone around us, we do hear them. Hearing is biological and unconscious.” For example, we hear our spouse telling us about their day, and often a few minutes later we barely remember any detail of what they shared.

When we actively listen to our spouse or child, we notice and register far more than their words. We feel empathy and it sparks curiosity to want to know more. When we are focused on them we also notice more subtle nuances in vocal tone and body language that may tell a deeper story than the one they relay in their words.

So how do we become Active Listeners?

Listen at Work

“Most of the successful people I’ve known are the ones who do more listening than talking.

– Bernard Baruch

There are some quick changes you can incorporate to hold more meaningful business discussions and connect more completely with co-workers. First of all, set a time for the really important talks. It isn’t fair or effective to call someone in with no warning and expect them to try to catch up during the conversation.

Stop multitasking when you talk. This includes phone conversations and online meetings. Put away everything except any device needed for the talk. We cannot be fully present and respect each other if our mind is in different places at the same time.

Schedule times to speak about the positive items of performance and not just the problems. This also includes asking how they are doing and what they enjoy when they are not at work. You may be surprised at the common likes or values you discover when the topic is on a lighter note.

Listen at Home

“Listening is being able to be changed by the other person.

– Alan Alda

We must practice at home what we want to exemplify in public. Our families and our friends need us to listen. A welcoming ear can reduce family conflict and encourage honest and healthy communication.

It is often those who most deserve our full attention who receive it the least. When we are raising our children there are so many magical moments that can be created by slowing down and just listening. And think of the amazing example you will set for them as they grow into adults.

Start off by not only giving your family member your full attention but also letting them have the time for their words to fully formulate and come out. Keep distractions out. The dishes will get done and there will always be another business paper to review. What won’t always be there is the family member’s willingness to share. To connect. And, as children grow and evolve they will turn to someone outside of the family if they feel unheard at home.

For those of us who have had conversations with a teenager, how many times has it seemed you were in different discussions? We hear different things or interpret what is said to us coming from our own perspective, not the perspective of the teen speaker. There are ways to start off on a more accepting note. When you have a conflict that needs resolving, let your children know that each person gets to take a turn to tell their own story from their own perspective in whatever way they want, while the other listens. No interruptions.

If a difficult question comes up, be sure to admit it when you do not know the answer. Assure the family member that together, you will work to find it. The important thing here is that they know you hear their question and you care. In keeping with the no-judgment practice, never minimize what a child or spouse is sharing. If you don’t empathize with the feelings they are bravely sharing, how often do you think they will come back to you on matters of importance?

Listen to Yourself

“Be careful how you are talking to yourself because you are listening.

– Lisa M. Hayes

The is one more person who needs your full attention – you. When we minimize listening to our own needs we devalue ourselves. What about the internal conversations we have with ourselves? What are we absorbing and what are we dismissing without consideration?

We have a tendency to listen to the worst voices in our heads and minimize the positives we have accomplished. Listening to a constant flow of “you can’t,” or “you shouldn’t even try,” is just as harmful when it comes from within. Internal listening may be one of the more difficult changes to make.

On the flip side, ignoring the voice inside that is telling you to “try something new,” “go for it,” or “believe in yourself” is another way of checking out. Sometimes it isn’t really a voice that is speaking to us but a feeling that is trying to give us guidance. Recognizing underlying emotions is part of the listening process.

Not Just the Listener’s Responsibility

It takes two to communicate. The responsibility of being a good listener shifts throughout the conversation. It might help at the start of any conversation to share what goal is hoped to be achieved. This is particularly important on sensitive subjects like job performance or marital needs. In our very divided world, each opportunity to open up a line of communication and invite each other to share their side of the story is valuable.

Should the conversation veer into the disconnected category, here are a few phrases that could help get you back on the right path:

  • Would you go back to what you were just saying? I want to be sure I understood what you meant.
  • Will you please rephrase that for me?
  • Please tell me more about that. I need a clearer picture.

It does take time and effort to become an active listener. Thank you for taking the time and making the effort to read this blog. I would appreciate hearing what YOU have to say. The floor is yours and I’m listening.

JuliGeskepeer, #DoYouHearWhatIHear, #activelistening, #listentolearn, #humanconnection, #betterconversations #Success, #2022success, #successinanyarena, #successfulleaders, #leadership, #juligeskepeerauthor


Award-Winning Finalist in the 2022 International Book Awards!

Listening effectively is just one of the senses for success covered in this book. Your senses can become your strategy and your roadmap to becoming an effective leader. Please take a moment to explore my book, 5 Senses for Success: Strategies to Thrive in Any Arena. I am very proud to share these approaches and truly achievable practices that were born out of my own life and career experiences and strategic research. Each of us has it within us to achieve success and create healthier relationships within ourselves and with others

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Juli Geske Peer is a leadership, relationship, and accountability strategist whose professional credentials include two academic degrees, mediator training, train-the-trainer certification, two coaching certifications, numerous other learning and certification accomplishments, and now, author!

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