“I remind myself every morning: Nothing I say this day will teach me anything. So if I'm going to learn, I must do it by listening.” – Larry King
I hate being ignored. When I talk to someone, I require their full attention. When my mom is texting while I talk, I wait for her to stop. When my dad is checking his phone while I talk, I take it away from him. How can someone understand what you’re saying when they’re distracted and not giving you their full attention?
I know that there is little we can do to change other people or greatly impact certain situations. All we can do is change ourselves and hope that what we give out to the world will come back to us. So then, the first thing you need to do to be understood is to try and understand others. And the first step to understanding another person is to truly listen.
Listening is a skill that has to be taught. It seems unnatural for us to just listen, because everyone just wants to be heard instead. It’s like when a baby is born and cries for everything he or she needs. The baby needs to be heard, but there has to be people there to listen.
In “The Science and Art of Listening,” Gray Matter writes that hearing is not a sense that can be turned off like sight. Even when we sleep we hear things. In fact, our reaction to sound happens ten times faster than our reaction to seeing something. Our brain has complex ways of filtering the noises we take in all the time and even has a volume control for when we sleep. Matter says, “The difference between the sense of hearing and the skill of listening is attention.”
When someone speaks to us, there are a million distractions that can interfere with our attention. There’s the sound of a text message, trying to remember when you have that meeting, and even examining the person’s clothing while they are talking. Clinical Psychologist Tara Brach says, “We spend most of our moments when someone is speaking, planning what we're going to say, evaluating it, trying to come up with our presentation of our self, or controlling the situation.” Truly listening to someone is not easy and takes practice, but it’s completely necessary.
At a leadership camp I went to in high school, our director had us all partner up and face each other. Only one person was to talk at a time. When the first person spoke, the other person was to sit straight, hands on lap, facing that person and making eye contact while remaining quiet. The room was loud and lively. When the second person talked, the partner was directed to slouch, look away and fiddle with their hands, but still remain quiet. The noise volume in the room died down quickly. The point – when people feel they are not truly being listened to, they don’t feel like they should keep talking.
In article by the Family Psychology of South Bend, they give tips for effective/reflective listening:
•Never interrupt when the other person is speaking. Allow the speaker to complete his or her thought.
•Eliminate distractions – put your book down or turn off the television.
•Maintain eye contact while the other person is speaking.
•Pull your chair closer and lean toward the speaker.
•Keep your posture open – directly face your partner and leave your arms and legs uncrossed.
•Give verbal and nonverbal responses to what the speaker is saying – “yes, I see,” nod your head, smile, or frown when it’s appropriate.
Also, it’s important to paraphrase what the other person said, clarify any confusion, and give then give feedback. If you want to be heard and understood, you must first learn to listen attentively and try to understand others.
I think the most ignored people in society are the very young and very elderly. Their opinions, ideas, and words don’t matter as much as the ones who are in power, the ones making the decisions. The people who are marginalized, pushed to the side, and left powerless are the people who should be listened to the most. You can’t help someone if you can’t empathize with them or even try to understand their situation. You can’t empathize or understand if you don’t listen.