Communication involves a speaker, a listener, a message, and an environment. To communicate effectively and meaningfully, one must take more than a passive role in the communication process. Can becoming a better communicator help someone who feels that perhaps they are “hard of hearing”.
According to wikipedia.com, hearing is the ability to perceive sound by detecting vibrations,changes in the pressure of the surrounding medium through time, through an organ such as the ear. Sound may be heard through solid, liquid, or gaseous matter. It is one of the traditional five senses. Hearing is passive…it happens whether you think about it or not, whether you want it to happen or not.
Now, listening…listening is a whole nother story. According to linguist Roland Barthes, listening is a psychological act whereas hearing is a physiological phenomenon. Hearing is always occurring, most of the time subconsciously. Listening is the interpretative action taken by the listener in order to understand and potentially make meaning out of the sound waves. We’ve all had times where we felt we were talking to empty space because we either got no response or the listener seemed disengaged or uninterested. So what does it mean to really listen?
What about ‘selective hearing’? At some point in our lives, it’s likely that we’ve been accused of having ‘selective hearing’…it sounds so horrible…to be “accused”…it makes us feel guilty…as if selective hearing is a crime (it’s not, by the way). There are actually several Wikipedia pages dedicated to the reporting on the study of selective hearing aka selective auditory attention – it’s quite fascinating.
Becoming an active and effective communicator can greatly enhance your quality of life whether you have any true hearing loss or not. The fact is, if you aren’t an active listener and a good communicator before you get hearing aids, you won’t be one after you get hearing aids. And, since most people don’t actually obtain hearing aids until ten or so years after they have a diagnosis of hearing loss, it would be a good idea to learn and use effective communication skills now…as in right now…this very moment.
As a speaker, you have control over what you say. It’s up to you to make your message interesting to the listener. Your message should be something they want to hear or something presented in a way that they are interested and engaged enough to listen even if it’s something they didn’t want to hear. This can be true even in everyday conversation with your loved ones. Have you ever felt like your spouse was tuning you out? Or do you find yourself tuning them out? Sometimes we just grow into bad communication habits and we never take the time to reset or fix them…in the end, we feel we aren’t being heard. Instead of blaming the listener, take active steps to improve your speaking skills. For example:
Speak clearly; not too fast, not too slow, not too many “filler” words, know your topic.
If your listener cannot understand you because you speak too quickly and jump from idea to idea they will lose interest in what you have to say because you are just too hard to follow. If you speak too slowly, they may just lose interest because it takes you so long to make your point. If you, like, use, um, too many “filler” words like, like, that would be, like, making yourself sound, like, uneducated (um, did I, like, make my point here?) If you sound like you don’t know jack about what you are talking about, it’s a sure way to lose the listeners attention and, perhaps, your credibility.
Make eye contact with your listener.
Your listener wants to feel like you care that they are listening. Making eye contact keeps your listener engaged and feeling as if they are a part of the conversation (even it you are giving a speech and no verbal feedback is necessary or required). Not making eye contact can also make you appear less trust-worthy and more shifty (and who wants that?)
Use your body language effectively (smile, eye contact, open posture, non-threatening hand gestures)
Body language is often the first communication we experience with each other. When you approach someone to speak to them, you are less likely to speak confidently if the listener is standing there with a sour-puss look on their face and their arms tightly crossed. In the same way, a listener could be put off by tense body language of a speaker. Relax and say what you need to say.
Be kind with your words (no lying, gossiping, blaming, self-deprecation, etc)
Remember the last time you were the topic of negative conversation? It doesn’t feel good so don’t do it to others. If you are always impeccable with your words, you will have no need to gossip about someone or lie (about anything). Keep these negative words from taking over your vocabulary including the self-deprecating words. If you are constantly telling yourself “I’m such an idiot” because you forgot one little thing or made one little mistake, pretty soon, everyone around you will view you as “such an idiot”. Mistakes happen…that’s why they are called that. Everyone makes them…shake it off, correct it to the best of your ability and move on.
Have a message worth listening to (would you want to listen to what you have to say?)
Something as common place as announcing that dinner is ready is a message people want to hear. Even small talk is appropriate to the right listener.
Speak to your listener at appropriate times and in the appropriate setting(s)
Does this even need more explanation? Obviously, you don’t want to speak to someone about a very personal matter in very public place. If your potential listener appears to be already engaged (in a book, at work, on a computer, etc), ask them if this is a good time to talk. If not, be respectful of their time and schedule. It’s OK to inquire as to when might be a better time. This is the “environment” part of communication.
As a listener, you can control how you listen. You can listen and pay attention to what is being said to you or you can let your mind wander. Try some of these ideas to become a better listener:
Body language (see above…all the same stuff applies, right?) 🙂
As the listener, you can also use prompting body language such as a nod or eyebrow raise or smile to let the speaker know that you are listening (and, hopefully, understanding).
Try to listen without interjecting or interrupting.
Interrupting someone speaking to you sends a message to them that you don’t care enough about what they are saying to listen fully and it can cause them to lose their train of thought. Make mental notes if clarification is needed and then, at a moment that seems appropriate (a pause or a facial expression that seems to invite questions or comments), ask your questions or make your comment. Remember, when you are the speaker, you don’t care to be interrupted so afford the same courtesy when you are the listener. You can, however, use minor verbal cues such as “uh-huh”, “hmmm”, or “I understand” to let the speaker know you are listening and paying attention.
Focus on what the speaker is saying right now, not what you expect them to say next.
Try to stay focused on the subject at hand. Let the speaker express his ideas fully before moving on to a new subject. Try not to interject your own experiences as it can tend to invalidate the experience the speaker is trying to share with you. Ask good questions to prompt continued conversation and show that you are interested in what is being said.
Exhibit patience when listening
Don’t use gestures and tics such as finger or pencil tapping, looking at your watch or smart phone, or gazing aimlessly, focused on anything except the speaker. This is a clear signal that you good give two shakes about what’s being said. Even if you don’t really give two shakes about what is being said, there are polite ways to end a conversation and exhibiting rude behaviors isn’t one of them.
Is this an exhaustive list of how to communicate? Not even close..barely even scratched the surface here. And the whole point I wanted to make is that maybe you (or your loved one) isn’t hard of hearing or in need of hearing aids. Maybe you’ve just lost your ability to communicate and you’re tuning each other out. Practice active listening skills and speaking skills and see if you don’t have some improvement in your ability to “hear” each other. If that doesn’t work and there are still too many “what did you say”s in your conversations, get your hearing tested by an audiologist.
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