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The Art of Listening

This post first appeared on Cathy’s blog, An Empowered Spirit.

Recently I was talking to someone about the frustrations of selling our beloved home. It’s our dream house and we think it’s beautiful and absolutely perfect, but so far no (sane) offers.

I could write a book about the outrageous cast of characters who’ve paraded through our home with their crazy questions and comments. You would not believe it.

It’s been a frustrating and altogether maddening experience.

When I was finished telling this to a friend she blankly stared ahead, waited a few seconds and then remarked, “In our town homes are selling like hot cakes. I don’t know what your problem is.”

The Art of Listening VSuch empathy.

I remember having a conversation with someone about the financial difficulties my husband and I were having. We were both working tirelessly because of a few downturns we’d recently experienced and we had to tighten our belts. It was a scary and unnerving time, and I thought that talking it over with a friend would help me feel better.

When I was through telling my friend about my feelings there was more than a pregnant pause; there was a choir of crickets. The silence was deafening and when it was finally broken I had to endure listening to stories of recent career successes, luxury items purchased and early retirement planning.

Ordinarily I’d be happy for my friend, but that day my psyche was not set on happiness mode.

I’m thrilled when good things happen to people I care about. I’m always in their corner applauding their joys and accomplishments. It’s wonderful to feel their happiness and I feel happy for them.

But when you take a leap of faith by opening your heart to someone and they’re too busy waiting impatiently for their turn to speak or pass judgment, that’s a whole other story.

As a health advocate I have to be a good listener. It’s my job. So it comes in handy that I was born with a personality that enjoys listening to and helping others. I try to walk around a bit in someone’s shoes to get a feel for how they’re feeling. My patient advocacy training reinforced this skill by stressing the importance of being an active listener.

Listen to someone’s words and feel them in your heart.

Remember listening to the radio? No cell phones or tablets distracted us from listening. In our parent’s generation entire families sat in front of the radio to listen to The Jack Benny Show or Gunsmoke, focusing on what they heard and sharing listening time with loved ones.

What’s happened to the art of listening? As children we’re taught to wait until it’s our turn to speak. As adults we lose that ability. Our lives are rushed at a frantic pace with tablets, cell phones, entertainment, family, friends, employers, neighbors, and our responsibilities in the course of a day all vying for our attention.

Look here! Read this! Like this! Post that! Tweet that! Do that!

Our brains feel like they’re about to explode and our wiring becomes frayed. Are our brains on overload without any more room to actively listen?

“I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen.” ~ Ernest Hemingway

We can improve our skills through active listening. Active listening is making a conscious effort to hear what the other person is saying, and understanding what message the speaker’s words are conveying.

Here are a few do’s and don’t of becoming an active listener. The steps sound simple, and we think we’re already practicing them. But I believe we all fall short. If we all begin to practice becoming better active listeners our world would be a kinder, more compassionate place to live. And to me, that means everything.

  • Don’t argue. Don’t get distracted. Don’t lose focus. Don’t interrupt with counter arguments. Don’t pass judgment.
  • Do pay attention. Do look at the speaker. Do repeat their thoughts. Do be candid, open and honest without judgment. Do acknowledge you heard their words. Do be encouraging and thoughtful. Treat the other person as you’d want to be treated.

I encourage you to take the time to listen to each other. After all, it takes a community of listeners to make our world a better place to live.

Cathy Chester

Cathy Chester blogs at An Empowered Spirit, focusing on living a healthy and vibrant life after 50. Cathy’s lived most of her life with a disability, and knows it does not define her. Changing the face of disability is her passion, along with other issues of concern such as social good and animal rights. She was voted one of the best blogs of 2013 by Healthline and was nominated for WEGO Health’s Best in Show Blog for the past two years. She is also a regular blogger for The Huffington Post as well as a Blogger/Moderator for MultipleSclerosis.net and Healthline.

Meg Root

Saturday 16th of January 2016

I loved this post. Not just because of the important reminder about listening more and sharing less, but the tone----thoughtful and not judgement. Just plain helpful. Thanks and beautifully written.

Carol Graham

Saturday 2nd of January 2016

I have always regarded myself as a good listener which is quite a feat for a Type A. Yet, some things happen in life that will push you to being an even better listener. When my husband was in a car accident, among other life-changing situations, he also had brain damage. Our lives stopped momentarily and I had to learn patience. Patience will automatically teach you how to listen.

When I launched my talk show last year I appreciated that I had already learned how to listen and to bite my tongue rather than respond with "I relate -- that happened to me as well." When we realize that to be a good listener it is entirely about the OTHER person and not ourselves, it makes it easier to listen.

You made some excellent points and by following them, it makes each of us a better person.

Jennifer

Saturday 2nd of January 2016

I loved this Cathy! So many people are planning what they're going to say, while they're supposed to be listening, that they don't hear a thing. I agree about our crazy fast paced life being a culprit. But it's sad and just rude when people do it.

Cathy Chester

Saturday 2nd of January 2016

There are so many people that like to hear themselves. I think many are called narcissists! (I certainly know a few) But generally we all need to work on listening to each other a whole lot more, Jennifer!

Haralee

Friday 1st of January 2016

A great reminder Cathy! Many people don't have your empathy, ability and your training but we can all learn a bit to be a better listener and a really a better friend! My oncologist, my dermatologist and a friend of mine who is a doctor have all hired 'Scribes'. It is because they can not Listen to their patients and look at them while typing their notes! The scribe types their notes right there during the appointment so they can concentrate on being a good doctor!

Cathy Chester

Saturday 2nd of January 2016

ALL ALL ALL doctors need to LISTEN to their patients. This is a perfect example of who needs to be only thinking about what someone is saying - the patient!

Can you tell me privately more about Scribe? Thanks, Haralee!

Doreen McGettigan

Friday 1st of January 2016

This is the first post I've read this year and I thank you for this important reminder. I have been working on being a better listener and less of a fixer. Happy New Year to you and your family. I hope this year is brighter for you.

Cathy Chester

Saturday 2nd of January 2016

Yes, you are a fixer, Doreen, but also a good listener. WE all could work on our listening skills. Turning off or down the noise in our head's is a difficult thing. But, boy, if we could work on it how much better those around us would be!

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