Keeping the Faith

Six Ways to Use Your Ears Better

Pop used to turn his hearing aid down when his wife started nagging him about keeping the house tidy or eating too much cake. Pretty sure he did it in church too, when the ladies’ choir started their warbling.

He admitted as much before he died many years ago, his wet eyes a-twinkle, leaning in to share one of the perks of old age.

Selective hearing.

Kids are masters in the field. My four-year-old teenager knows how to roll his eyes and has been caught in the act after mummy has hit broken-record point with the asking and asking and asking of “shoes on” or “eat dinner” or “pack up toys”. It’s a look that says, “I heard you the first time, I just decided not to listen!”

Selective hearing.

my-kids-call-it-yelling-i-call-it-motivational-speaking-for-people-with-selective-hearing-77491But we shouldn’t give the young and the old too hard a rap for something everyone in-between has surely struggled with.

We’re not very good at listening these days.

We have two ears and one tongue yet for most of us, the dominant compulsion is to talk first and listen later, if we have time.

Modern media and technologies have groomed us for latent, ego-centric relationships that have us scrabbling to be heard. They are counterfeit relationships. We all know that nourishing engagement with others is a two-way discourse.

So, listen up.

This is what a wise bloke called James said back in Bible time, and I reckon it still has traction today:

“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” (James 1:19)

Got it?

Listening is a real art. Some people are naturals – others, well, we need to upskill. I have a friend who is the ultimate listener. Sue is to listening as Monet is to painting. How does she do it? I’ve noticed six things in particular:

  1. She listens with her whole being. When I talk, her eyes are focused, her posture is alert, her body is turned towards me, leaning in, engaged.
  2. She is patient, never rushing the conversation along by finishing sentences or guessing at my meaning. Rather, she exudes peace – a contagious peace that I lend from, calming me, easing me to share more completely.
  3. She nods “ah-huh” and “I know what you mean” so that I know she is still with me at the various points of this verbal journey. She might also prompt or give feedback to encourage open communication, but it is delivered gently and always to keep focus on the thing at hand.
  4. She is attentive to non-verbal cues (They say that 65% of communication is unspoken). She notices eye contact, what my hands are doing, if shoulders are slumped, if the smile is staged and so on.
  5. She doesn’t redirect attention to herself. She resists the urge to constantly relate your stories to her own, and thus take over the conversation, as some are apt at doing. That’s not to say that she sits there with her lips zipped. Rather, she chooses her timing well, waiting to share when it is appropriate, never speaking over top of others.
  6. Finally, technology does not trump face-to-face interaction. She will not answer her phone in my presence unless absolutely necessary, she definitely doesn’t thumb through her emails or social media accounts while chatting and if she notices someone in need of an old-fashioned tête-à-tête via one of the aforementioned forums, she will make contact and boil the kettle.

Sue would be the first to tell you that she’s not perfect – just quick to listen and slow to speak.

She is a great example for us to get the ears flapping more than the tongue wagging.

First published in The Examiner Newspaper for Keeping the Faith column on Monday July 27, 2015.