by Nancy Van Pelt
Many assume listening is something we do with our ears. Ears are vitally important to the process of hearing, but true listening goes beyond only hearing what is said. Many people hear but do not listen.
Listening describes a skill which one learns–the process of tuning in or tuning out voices, noise, music. A conscious choice is made about what will receive our attention.
A “Dennis the Menace” comic strip describes the process perfectly. Dennis greets his neighbor, Mr. Wilson, while Mr. Wilson is reading his paper. No response. Dennis tries again, speaking louder. No response again. In desperation Dennis tries one last time, then turns to leave when his last attempt has failed. In a normal voice he calls good-bye over his shoulder.
“Good-bye, Dennis,” Mr. Wilson replies. Dennis remarks on his way out the door, “There’s nothing wrong with his hearing, but his liestening’s not so good.”
Many “Mr. Wilson’s” exist in the world today who have developed poor listening habits. These habits can be very irritating to others and impede the development of an intimate relationship.
INTERRUPTING is the number-one detest listening habit. Interrupters spend their time not listening to what is being said but in forming a reply. Interested only in their own ideas, they pay little attention to the words of the other person and wait for a split second when they can break in with, “Oh, that’s nothing. What till you hear this!”
LACK OF EYE CONTACT came in second on the “most irritating” list. Listeners who fail to look at the person speaking to them convey disinterest, distrust, and a lack of caring.
THE SELECTIVE LISTENER picks out bits and pieces of conversation that interest him and rejects the rest. Others do not want to hear anything disagreeable, upsetting, or different.
A DEFENSIVE LISTENER twists everything said into a personal attack on self. A single mother gave her boyfriend the silent tretment all evening because she felt his remarks about her children’s table manners were a personal attack on her ability to train them properly.
These and many other bad habits abound because we have not been trained in how to listen. Listening is the most neglected and least understood of the communication arts. Becoming a good listener doesn’t require a college degree, but it does require training.
TOTAL BODY LISTENING
If you do not look as if you are listening, you might as well not be. In total body listening you will utilize every part of your body to show your partner you are listening. It makes the other person feel special, valued, and worthwhile.
LISTEN WITH YOUR EYES. Look at the person who is speaking without staring, boring holes, zeroing in, or making your partner uncomfortable. Make certain your eyes are not daring here and there, watching other people, or moving indiscriminately about the room when something important is being shared.
People feel distrust and suspicion for those who do not look at them when communicating. Distrust is one of the biggest blocks to effective communication. When someone looks you directly in the eye, it conveys confidence and builds a trust in the relationship.
In controlled experiments, psychologists have found that people who are deeply in love with each other engage in much more eye contact than do other couples. Eyes are capable of conveying many messages: love or hate, surprise or disinterest, happiness or sadness.
LISTEN WITH YOUR HEAD. Unless you nod your head in agreement, there is little motivation for the speaker to continue. A nod at the appropriate time says, “I understand.” Lean toward the speaker as though hanging on every word, but be sincere.
LISTEN WITH YOUR HANDS. Hands are capable of conveying approval or disapproval. Pointing your finger at someone is accusatory, but thumbs up conveys agreement. Use your hands to say, “I care.”
LISTEN WITH YOUR BODY. One with folded arms across the chest sugggests defensivenss while leaning forward toward the speaker is a sign of interest and involvement.
LISTEN WITH YOUR MOUTH. A good listening technique is found in responding with an invitation to say more, a simple invitation for the other person to share his thoughts.
Some of the simplest door openers might include: “No kidding,” “How interesting,” “I’m glad to hear that.” Some more explicit door openers are: “Tell me more,” “I’d be interested to hear what you have to say on this.”
Such responses reveal your interest but they also keep the conversation with the other person. He will not get the idea that you want to take over. They encourage a person to talk, move in, come closer and share feelings.
BODY LANGUAGE; DO ACTIONS SPEAK LOUDER THAN WORDS/
Few people grasp the importance of body language. In normal communication, the words used or content accounts for only 7 percent of what is conveyed; tone of voice and gestures amount to 38 percent; facial expressions alone account for an astonishing 55 percent.
This means that 93 percent of what is communicated is done so without words. Understanding nonverbal communication then, is probably more important than any other listening skill.
We communicate nonverbally through three different modes:
l. BODY LANGUAGE. All body positions either support or deny a verbal message. Sagging shoulders might communicate discouragement; head in hands, despair; a rigid sitting position, tension. But facial expressions send the strongest message. Eyes are the most expressive part of facial expressions. Their shiftiness, narrowing, widening, a slow roll, and rate of blinking all tell the mood of their owner. Eyes alone can divulge “I have no interest in your” or “You are important to me.”
Gestures are also part of body language. A handshake, embrace, clenched fist, slammed door, upturned themb and pat on the back all send clear messages when coupled with other nonverbals and the spoken word.
Our dress also sends a silent but powerful message about what’s inside. Someone has said that by what we wear we hang a sign for all the world to see and judge. “Loud” clothes beg for attention; sloppy dress indicates carelessness and low self-worth; immodest or revealing dress, a desperate plea for attention.
Note: Body language rarely lies because it springs from the subconscious. A person can hide feelings but not body language.
(2) VOICE CUES. Words convey information, but how those words are spoken–volume, speed, inflection, and emphasis–carries more weight (38 percent of the impact). The teasing tone, touch of humor, judgmental chastisement convey friendliness, happiness, or anger. Cues tell the other person whether to come closer or back off.
Beware of a variety of speech mannerisms that can be annoying. One such mannerism is ‘Yes, but.” Another is, “I know,” which conveys, “You dummy. You can’t teach me anything.”
It is because of what is involved in body language that I advise against long distance romance One couple courted via letters and the phone for two years. They were madly in love and knew they were meant for each other. Within a few months after they were married they were in deep trouble. Sandra said she felt like she had married a stranger. And Frank said that Sandra was nothing like he thought she was.
How could this be when they had courted for two years? To a large extent it happened because they did not know each other. When writing each other 93 percent of the message was missing. Over the phone and in letters a couple cannot see the body postures, facial expressions, and gestures which either support or deny what is being said.
HIS AND HER LISTENING STYLES; ARE THEY DIFFERENT?
According to studies conducted on the listening habits of the sexes, women and men have different ways of showing they are listening. Women tend to denote keen listening through “uh-huh,” “mmhmm,” and “interesting.” Women will include more head nodding and other positive listening habits more frequently than men.
Men include fewer of these behaviors in their listening. This leaves women with the impression that men aren’t listening and men with the impression that women overlisten.
Furthermore, what men and women mean by their listening behaviors differs vastly. When women nod their heads and say “uh-huh,” they do so to indicate they are listening and understand what is being said. Men use listening noises more to show agreement. It could be that women are listening less but are more convincing actors. Or it could be that men are hearing as much as women but are agreeing less!
This complicates the listening process. If a woman listens attentively to her man, echoing many “ohs,” “yeahs,” and uh-huhs,” indicating good listening (from her point of view), and he later discovers that she did not agree with what he was saying, he might accuse her of being deceitful. The same is true for a woman. If she shares something with her man and he gives no response, she thinks he is not paying attention.
Many men could improve their listenability by getting into the act of listening with some head nodding and an occasional “uh-huh.” A woman needs this kind of listening response from a partner in order to be heard. She seeks understanding more than a solution. A time will come to search for a solution, but while she is upset she wants to be listened to.
Most of all a woman needs to have her feelings validated and accepted. A woman who feels she cannot be heard also begins to feel unloved. Usually she will talk louder and longer in an effort to be heard and feel loved.
SIX POWERFUL LISTENING RULES
How is your “listenability”? Have you been a poor listener? How you communicate with the opposite sex can be the difference in being a great date or a mediocre date. Here are six power-packed ways you can improve your listening skills. Try them on your next date.
l. MAINTAIN GOOD EYE CONTACT. Focus your full attention on your partner.
2. SIT ATTENTIVELY. Lean forward in your chair as if you are hanging on every word. Block all other distractions from your mind.
3. ACT INTERESTING IN WHAT YOU ARE ABOUT TO HEAR. Raise your eyebrows, nod your head in agreement, smile, or laugh when appropriate.
4. SPRINKLE YOUR ATTENTIVE LISTENING WITH APPROPRIATE PHRASES TO SHOW INTEREST AND UNDERSTANDING. “I agree.” Is that so!” “Great!” Your partner wants to know you understand the ideas being presented.
5. ASK WELL-PHRASED QUESTIONS. Give encouragement by asking questions that illustrate your interest.
6. LISTEN A LITTLE LONGER. Just when you think you are through listening, listen thirty seconds longer!