According to some studies adults spend almost half of their waking lives listening. That doesn't necessarily mean they are hearing what is being said. It's not just someone with hearing loss who might need to learn to be actively engaged in trying to listen. So what are the keys to successful listening for those with and without hearing loss?
As people become more accustomed to having electronic mediums aggressively vie for their attention, they also become more accustomed to allowing their attention to drift when not actively pursued. This electronic-ADD is disrupting normal communications and weakening our skills as listeners. So how can you make yourself a better listener?
Reflect: Reflecting is about mirroring what has been said by the speaker. When reflecting you allow yourself to summarize what you've heard. Most of us have had this done to us before, usually by a good customer service representative. Something like, "I hear you saying that your phone service isn't working for you." And as weird as it seems, it also feels good that someone is reflecting and thereby acknowledging your issue. As a listener, this also works well to focus you on the conversation. If you are truly focused on absorbing what someone is saying, you are not judging them or waiting for them to finish so you can comment or interrupting them. And if you have a hearing loss, this technique is a good way to reassure not just the speaker but yourself that you have heard the conversation correctly. Plus, it's respectful and can promote greater empathy.
Here's a funny Everybody Loves Raymond clip about active listening.
Nonverbal Verbals: Actions often do speak louder than words. If someone's face reflects anger or joy or excitement that conveys a great deal about what they are saying. Training yourself to notice nonverbal cues requires that you be present and relaxed. If you are tense or uncomfortable, you are less likely to be paying attention to a blush, the wetting of lips, the slight raising of lips that signals you as to what the person speaking is trying to subtly indicate. And remember you have nonverbal verbals too. If you face someone, maintain eye contact, and lean toward them you are letting know that you are actively listening.
Shake Off the Brain Mites: We all have them, brain mites. Those tiny little niggling worries, distractions, or judgments that drive us from what is being said and onto something completely different. It's why when you have been told about someone's dying grandmother you can reply with, "Yeah. My grandmother makes pie too." You stopped listening, heard part but not all of what had been said, and tried to supply the direction of the conversation. Responding inappropriately has become more and more common as people drift more easily. Focusing away from distracting thoughts is a skill that can be aided not just by discipline but by meditation. The meditation skills of creating mental silence and patience can add to the ability to focus from random thought mites. Please note: Any piecing together of conversational elements into an understandable story can also be a sign of hearing loss.
Take Responsibility: Listening isn't an inactive skill. Nor is it an instantaneously learned skill or relearned skill. It's not up to the person speaking to entertain you. It's your job to pay attention. If you find that you have drifted or that you were busy judging and not listening hold yourself accountable. Don't allow the conversation to continue and then try to piece together information. Wait for a pause in the conversation flow. Tell the speaker where you drifted. Allow them to reiterate what had been said or ask a question about the information that you did not understand to let them know what part you missed. Holding yourself accountable not only teaches you there are consequences for not listening, but it lets the speaker know that you truly care about what they say and that you are attempting to do your best to hear them.
Care for Your Ears: Listening is a skill that can be honed and worked on, but it also depends highly on your ability to hear properly. Regular visits to your hearing health provider, using ear plugs to protect your ears, eating right, and correcting deficits in your hearing are all ways that you can care for your ears. Taking care of your ears is also one of the most effective ways to keep yourself engaged and social as you age!
If you do have a hearing loss Phonak has The Listening Room page that is dedicated to helping train people with hearing loss to better listen.
If you need help finding a hearing health provider click HERE to be connected with the largest network of trusted hearing health professionals in the nation!