Now Hear This: The Art Of Listening



Can you hear me now?

Or are you thinking of a particular cellular phone service ad?


Pualani Burns did not get to be an esthetician with 28 years of experience by turning a deaf ear to the wishes of her clients. Throughout her career the native Hawaiian has traveled the United States. Burns has opened new spas and trained personnel. She currently listens to her clients at Body Elegance Day Spa in Payson.

"When you are truly listening to another person you are not thinking of what you are going to say or do next," said retired counselor Vivian Mattaliano.

When you demonstrate to someone that what they are saying is interesting to you, you are actively listening.

Friendships, marriages and working relationships can all be enhanced by proper communication.

Active listening is a skill that anyone can develop and practice, said Mattaliano.

As someone is speaking you should maintain eye contact.

You can also employ some or all of these active listening skills: Nod your head in agreement; lean forward; or say a few words now and then such as "I see." or "Really?" or "I understand," or similar words to show that you are listening.

"An important thing to remember is that most of our communication is non-verbal," said Mattaliano.

In the course of listening to someone, especially if the conversation is a long one, a person will change position a number of times. According to Mattaliano, the crossed arms position is a closed position, but it can also mean that the listener is cold.

Touching is a touchy point. From the point of view of the speaker, for some people touching someone's arm or shoulder accentuates a point. For others it may be an invasion of personal space. Mattaliano said, if you don't know the person well it is better not to touch during a conversation. Touch can be distracting and uncomfortable.

What can a couple can do specifically to listen to each other?

"Some (relationship) counselors will say, ‘Try and listen to each other for 10- or 15-minute increments without interrupting,'" Mattaliano said. "Talk about how whatever action it was that your partner did that has upset you. For instance, I feel hurt when you do this. Instead of taking a blaming stance, which just leaves the other person defensive. As soon as you start a conversation, ‘You do this and it makes me mad,' you ensure a fight."

If you are voicing discontent, it is important to remember to watch your tone of voice. Speak, don't yell or engage in name-calling.

Kitchen sink fighting is when you bring the same issue up over and over. Mattaliano recommends couples try to get the issue settled in one discussion and then put it aside.

"Come to a compromise and stick to it as well as you can so that it doesn't have to come up in a future argument."

Don't bury the hatchet then leave the handle sticking out to pick up again years in the future.

The Not-To-Do list for listeners:

  • fighting
  • looking somewhere else
  • watching television
  • daydreaming
  • interrupting

"Most people cut others off because they are too busy ‘listening to themselves' listen," said psychologist Herbert Schwager. "In other words, they frequently feel that their information is much more important and therefore the words of others are merely a distraction of what they perceive as the real facts."

Interrupting sends the message that listening is an inconvenience.

Another consequence of this style of not listening brings a risk with it. "A person listens to the first half of someone's comment, doesn't like what they heard and so stop listening and start preparing a response," said Schwager. "In fact, if they had listened to the entire message they may have all ready been in accurate agreement. Even a compliment may have been in the latter half of the comment."

People often confuse disagreement with not listening, according to Schwager.

Jogging the brain is a valuable side effect of listening.

"By patiently listening to what others say, the likelihood of increasing our learning means we are exercising our brain and keeping it busy processing new information," said Schwager.

Children's brains are especially busy processing new information. As they learn new concepts they must match the correct words to those concepts.

"Listen carefully to children and ask them questions," teacher Stephanie Porterfield said.

"Repeat what they say so that they know you understand what they said."

An adult may hear a child say something illogical, but it doesn't mean the child is stupid. It could mean the child just needs a patient explanation. It could also mean that the child is just being playful.

"Remember, to be in their world," said Porterfield. "They are creating it and it could be pretty fanciful."

When a person learns good verbal and non-verbal communication skills their role in the give and take of a conversation will improve.

Ernest Hemingway said, "I love to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen."

Listening and language

Neuro - the study of the mind or brain and nervous system.

Linguistic - how our language creates our internal processes.

Programming - how we create (program) our reality by these processes.

Sometimes you can get a person to open up to you in a conversation by matching their physical behavior. It makes them think subconsciously, "Oh. This is a person like me." It is important to match their actions, not mimic. For instance, if they touch their cheek, you might touch your chin.

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