And the art of listening
Listening requires focus, and focus isn’t easy if you feel pulled in different directions and if your mind is jumping all over the place, in a jumble of thoughts and emotions.
This weekend, I volunteered at the First International Congress on Whole Person Care in Montreal. The topic of listening came up at a few workshops and plenary sessions. The key message for healthcare professionals went like this…Listening isn’t just hearing words. It's listening to tone, speed and volume of the voice. It’s paying attention to gestures, mood and feelings and what is and isn’t being said. Listening is part of providing good care.
I said to one doctor, " I always assumed that doctors' should know how to talk and listen to their patients, but many have poor communications skills and don't know how to seek and respect input from their patients. Why?" To which she answered, "It's taken me 20-years to learn how to be an effective parent; it's really no different. These are learned skills and our training has not supported partnering with patients." She had a point.
A keynote speaker said to a large crowd, "You need to sit near your patients, remove as many barriers as you can, be as present as possible with your hands in your lap and, look and listen so to hear what is really being said."
In the evening, unwinding by the wood stove in my living room after a long conference day, I started to tell a friend about an important experience I had at one of the workshops. After only a few minutes, mid-sentence, I stopped talking. Deflated, but not angry, I said, “What happened, you just disappeared into lala land? You don’t seem to be listening to me at all.” He replied in a non-defensive tone, “I don’t know, I just drifted off. I’m sorry.”
I was reminded immediately of an exercise we did during a workshop intended to demonstrate how easily distracted we are and how poorly we pay attention. It goes like this:
What do you think happened in both scenarios?
In the first one, the listener was distracted and had very little recall of what the speaker was passionate about. The speaker, feeling unheard, became disheartened and disengaged. In the second scenario, both speaker and listener felt connected, interested and bonded.
No doubt, our minds wander. We seem to drift in and out of listening, nodding and saying yes and aha at appropriate times. Our minds are so jittery we don’t even remember what we are talking about!
To improve your listening, you can adopt more mindful practices. Here are some good suggestions - you only need to remember using them!
Stop multi-tasking and:
Stop listening in the modes of:
Keep me posted,
When other people talk, do you actively listen? Effective listening requires certain techniques for receiving, organizing and interpreting what has been said. Would your professional or personal life would benefit from learning how to become a better listener?
My family, relationships, movement, nature, flexibility of mind, exploration of alternative perspectives & openness are central to my life.