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Hearing but not listening

Well it’s here – 2010 – a new decade begins. What will we resolve to do this year?  Will it be the same as last year?  Will we be able to actually follow through on our resolutions? I’ll once again make a conscience effort to exercise more, eat healthier, and read my Bible on a daily basis. How else will I feel better, have more energy and live a longer, better quality of life? 

Another resolution I am personally going to make to myself is to become a better listener. I’ve always been lacking in that capacity. Sure, by the grace of God I am able to hear, but I very seldom really listen. It has been said that when it comes to the similarities between listening and hearing, the only one is you use your ears for both. A recent church sermon made me realize that although I have the latter perfected, I have quite a ways to go before I can say that I am a good listener. Anyone who knows me is snickering at this point, because I am a habitual interrupter. Yes, I admit it. My name is Jill and I am an interrupter. This annoying habit, I have come to learn, comes from my inability to really, truly listen.

Although I do empathize when I hear, immediately my mind (which I attribute to adult ADD) begins contemplating a response. Before I can stop myself my response, opinion, answer or meaningless chatter, whichever the case may be, spills out in the middle of someone else’s dissertation.

Is there a distinct difference between hearing and listening? Definitely. Hearing is simply the act of perceiving sound by the ear. If you are not hearing-impaired, hearing just simply happens. Listening, however, is something you must consciously choose to do, thus my 2010 resolution. Unfortunately, listening requires concentration and that is where my impairment comes in making me actually “hard of listening” rather than “hard of hearing.”

When one really listens the brain processes meaning from words and sentences so listening leads to learning. It incorporates paying attention and focusing with the intention of understanding and responding appropriately. Most people would indicate they have excellent communication skills but when it boils down to it, people, in general enjoy hearing themselves talk. Basically, all of us want to be heard. The question is, with all the people talking, who is really listening to what is actually being said?
To instigate my resolution to unleash the power of listening, I have studied some skills to incorporate to develop better and more effective listening. I have learned one way to make certain you are listening is to repeat what is being said. This not only shows the person speaking that you are listening, but it will also ensure that you remember what was said to you later.
Another important key to listening is to pay attention to the speaker. Yet another one of my infinite character flaws is the ability to maintain eye contact and acknowledge what a person is saying as they are saying it. I realize this is a skill that must be improved in order to become an effective listener. This ensures both you and the speaker remain on track and focused on the conversation.
Finally, it is important to be able to tune out distractions. Again, ADD comes into play, but I am convinced I can at least improve in this area. I plan to treat this aspect of listening as a challenging mental task in order to better concentrate on what is being said and not what is going on around me. In many situations that require listening, there are other people present, noises resounding and a host of other possible distractions. Eliminating them may in some cases be impossible. Focusing on them, however, is a choice and may require diligence.
Overall, I am convinced to become a more effective listener, I must open my ears, shut my mouth, and open my heart. Maybe when I start truly listening to what people are saying verses simply hearing them, I will learn a lot, and maybe even something about myself in the process.