May 3, 2017 by Lisa Brammer
My 5-year-old grandson, Henry, and I have a game we’ve been playing since we first began talking on the phone together when he was about two and a half years old. It all started because the way he held the phone made it difficult for him to hear anything that was being said to him. Consequently, since he wasn’t getting (hearing) any feedback about what he was saying, he thought maybe I wasn’t there. So, after each story he told, he would panic a little and yell into phone, “Hello, is anybody there?” That was his mom’s cue to readjust the way he was holding the phone and my cue to assure him that I was there and heard everything he said. Over the years, it’s morphed and has become a game. But now it’s not about an inability to hear—it’s more about listening. Whenever either one of us feels like the other one is a bit preoccupied with something else during a conversation or isn’t listening intently enough, we say, “Hello, is anybody there?”
Do you ever feel like you want to say this to someone you are conversing with? I know I do! And if I’m being totally honest, I’m willing to bet other people have wanted to say it to me too. I remember, as a young adult, when I realized I wasn’t a good listener. I was talking with someone and whenever I paused to take a breath they would cut me off and say something. Also, I could tell by their expression, they were thinking more about what they wanted to say next than they were listening to what I was saying. I was totally annoyed until it hit me, I was doing exactly the same thing! The two of us were having a conversation, we both could hear what the other was saying, but neither one of us was listening.
Hearing is not the same as listening. If you are not hearing impaired, hearing simply happens. If you think the same is true about listening, guess what? You probably aren’t a very good listener. Listening is not passive. It requires concentration, especially if you are like me and have developed some bad listening habits. But bad listening habits can be replaced with good ones. Here are some skills I’ve learned over the years to become a more active listener.
- Give the speaker your undivided attention – Look her (or him) in the eye, clear your mind and focus on what they are saying. Do not interrupt or try to redirect the conversation—it’s not always all about you!
- Listen without hearing – Look for non-verbal cues (e.g. facial expressions, actions, body language) that can communicate as much as words can.
- Keep an open mind – Instead of thinking about how you disagree with what is being said, open your mind to new ideas and different views. I’ll say it again, it’s not all about you and your perspective. If you keep an open mind and listen, you might learn something new that will allow you to grow.
- Engage and ask questions – Nod, smile or say, “uh huh, or “yes” occasionally to let the speaker know you want to hear more. Provide feedback or ask for clarification by saying things like, “Are you saying….?” or “Do you mean….?”
I know this sounds like a lot of work, but once you get the hang of it, it gets easier and easier. Not to mention, it is totally worth it. Believe me, it’s made a tremendous difference in both my personal and professional life. Once you start actively listening, you might be amazed about how much you can learn.
It’s funny, once I identified I had a listening problem, it was easy for me to spot it in others. And what I found is, more people are hard of listening, not hard of hearing.
What about you?
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