I do not know if I should be ashamed to admit that I have to work at being a good listener or not. Perhaps, it is admirable that I know I have to work at this trait, so I do. In any case, I think we can all use a reminder of what it takes to be a good listener.
When one is trained, such as I was, to be a nurse, you are required to become a good listener. Taking a health history, listening to and recording the patient’s complaints is certainly an important characteristic of a “good” nurse. These often include symptoms or subjective complaints made by the patient. They are supported (or not) by signs or the objective signals that the body sends out that something is wrong. The signs can support the subjective symptoms recorded by the nurse. So, in listening, not only are words noted but also the nuances of body language and the signs the body shows when something is not quite right (increased heart rate or respiratory rate, temperature, etc.) are noted.
Being a good listener requires effort. This is an important lesson I’ve learned over the years. And, I do work at it. But, I’m afraid that finding a good listener is even harder. In our 24/7 world of news/media/and constant conductivity, it is hard to find someone willing to slow down enough to really listen. The skill of listening is being lost in the immediacy of contact and need to “move on” to the next snippet of information. And, I pose that it has detrimental side effects.
Listening requires the use of certain skills. The skills include eye contact, leaning in, and restraint to not interrupt the speaker with your story, your problem, or your history. An occasional question shows the speaker you are listening closely to what they have to stay. In essence, if you are being a good listener – it is “about” them, not you. And, that is a key caveat. At the time of being a good, attentive listener, the person who is speaking is more important than your reaction to what they are saying. This is true in all settings – home, work, or even social arenas.
Personally, I think finding good listeners are rare and becoming more so. Being a good listener is a trait of being a great leader. For when we do not listen, and really hear what is said, a rush to judgment occurs. We see this every day on the internet when there is a controversial or thought-provoking post with a link to an article, research, or more information and people respond with their reactions without reading the attached link(s). An uninformed opinion manifests because not enough time was spent listening or processing (in the case of reading something) the information.
Very often, people are not purposefully trying to be rude when not listening; they just do not know “how” to do it. Because listening requires hearing. Truly hearing what another person is saying requires effort on the part of the listener. One of my greatest life frustrations is when I feel like I am not being heard or cannot find a person who will listen. It is alienating and isolating.
My friend, who also blogs, recently wrote a post on being able to discuss mental health more openly in public spaces such as churches. She admits that part of being heard is being honest enough to say, “I’m not okay,” in response to how are you? But, she also notes that this response is not the expected one and therefore requires the inquirer to immediately become a listener. That requires time and compassion, as well as truly caring about the answer the person gives. For you cannot really ask how someone is, without expecting an honest answer. Being “not okay” requires a listener. Be prepared to be one.
We all need to work at the skill of listening. I think if we do, we can offer each other more support and end the frustrating isolation of not being heard. Are you a good listener? Why? Does it make you a better leader, a better friend, a better parent, a better spouse, or a better son/daughter? If so, how? Feel free to let me know in the comments.