We were driving down a dark road on Maui after a long day of play. My wife was driving. The kids were doing their things. I was looking out the window to see as much as I could see on my first trip to Hawaii. Suddenly, my wife and my kids all start to say, “What is that noise? What’s that sound? Do you hear it?” I said, “No. What sound?” They all begin to describe a deep noise that they say was like a cricket chirp but lower. “There it is again!” This went on for a couple of minutes. For the life of me, I could not hear the sound they were all hearing.
Which reminds me…I still need to get my hearing checked.
From that simple question “What do you hear?” our senses are shifted and our brain begins to focus on that one sense. Some people close their eyes so they can focus on the auditory sense. Our brains pick up sound almost ten times faster than we process other senses. Many believe this stems from the built in life-line alarms we have developed since the days our ancestors were not top of the food chain. Hearing is something most species do and do well to warn of potential dangers. Hearing (if we haven’t lost the sense) is easy.
Listening, really listening is hard. We are surrounded by potential distractions that enter our ears every fifty-thousandth of a second. Listening is a skill. It is a skill we are in danger of losing in a world of information and technology designed to distract.
Because listening is a skill, we can learn it. Take some time to practice. Don’t give someone the opportunity to say, “You never listen!” or “We want our voices heard.” Being a better listener will make you a better spouse, parent, boss, employee, salesperson, problem solver and a better leader. Here are some suggestions to practice listening:
We can listen to new music rather than familiar songs.
We can listen to our significant other’s voice – not just their words – to listen for the emotions in the harmonics.
We can ask questions to really find out an answer not because we need an answer but because we care.
We can engage ourselves in the conversation by putting the phone down, taking out the headphones, turning off the television and focus on the important sounds coming from the mouths of the important people in your life.
We can be mindful of our surroundings. Listen to what your eyes see – body language, facial expressions, nods, etc. We can engage with eye contact and gestures.
Learn rather than judge or criticize. We can embrace differences and learn new ideas and ideals rather than shutting someone down.
Don’t interrupt. Let people express themselves. Give time in the conversation for silence so both can comprehend. We don’t always have to provide a solution.
Summarize. End the conversation with a summary statement. This is especially important in conversations that result in agreements.
Genuine listening is a skill. It is a skill we can all learn with practice. It will improve our lives and relationships. It is also a very rare gift – a gift of time.
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