I wasn’t sure anyone would respond to my invitation to talk communication skills. I actually wondered if I’d get to write a second post. Well, it seems I am writing that post. Thank you so much for all the encouraging comments. I'm really looking forward to the discussion!
I'm thinking this is serious stuff. I've never written any posts like these before. Shall I get nervous about what I'm going to say? No! This series of posts doesn’t have to cover everything possible about communications skills, in an organised and concise manner, does it? I’m not going to write as an expert. Instead I’m hoping this will be a relaxed conversation between friends. We’ll probably jump from here to there and back again, as we all have ideas. Is that okay? I think it’ll work out. I hope it does!
So where shall we begin? Nancy suggested listening skills, and I agree that’s the perfect place to start. Let me tell you about my very first trainee counsellor meeting. The topic was listening skills…
The trainer said: “When someone is talking to you, do you ever let your mind wander deliberately? Do your eyes glaze over? Do you use the time to think about something else, something you think is much more interesting? Do you hope the speaker hurries up and finishes so you can move onto other things?” I answered, “Yes,” to every one of these questions.
Every evening, Andy would come home from work eager to tell me about his day. He’d talk but I wouldn’t really listen. I wasn’t interested enough in what he had to say. I felt so guilty when I realised what I was doing. It was at that point, I knew I had a lot to learn.
Listening to someone is a real act of love. I know I’d rather talk than listen. It takes effort to put someone else first, especially if I think I’m not interested in what they're saying. Not interested in what they’re saying? Maybe I would be interested if I listened properly. Andy’s work is important to him. It’s part of who he is. These days I do listen.
But my listening skills are far from perfect…
Sometimes I spend the time I should be listening, formulating what I’ll say as soon as the speaker pauses for breath. I’m not really listening at all. I’m just waiting for my chance to take over the conversation. Do I think what I have to say is far more important than what the speaker is saying?
So how do we know if someone is listening to us? I wonder if Andy noticed my glazed over eyes. That would have been a dead giveaway. He must have known my thoughts were elsewhere. Patricia mentioned that she has a friend who looks around when she’s supposed to be listening. So maybe eye contact is very important.
And some kind of response every now and then. I know if I’m talking on the phone, and I don’t say anything for a long time, the speaker will eventually say, “Are you still there, Sue?” I will reply, “Yes, I am listening.” Obviously she wasn’t aware I was listening. Maybe I wasn’t.
It can happen this way face-to-face too. I might physically be there, but is my mind still paying attention? Gemma-Rose often says to me, “Mum, are you thinking again?” And I reply, “What do you mean?” before she says, “You’re not listening.” I can’t fool her at all.
So I think some ‘encouragers’ every now and then, such as “I see,” “Oh”, or ‘Right!” would help reassure the speaker we are actually paying attention. It might keep me on track too. And how about reflecting back what is being said?… “It sounds like you had a great time!”
Or an occasional question… “What did you do next?”
But too many questions might mean I am directing the conversation. It might look like I’m taking over and not prepared to be the listener.
Andy often starts a conversation when I’m typing on the computer. It’s impossible to look like I’m listening when I’ve got one eye on the keyboard, so I usually close my computer. I give him my full attention. Well, I admit I do that most of the time. So reducing distractions might help me to listen properly. Turning off the TV, going somewhere quiet…
Posture and body position? Relaxed and facing the speaker? Not too close, not too far away. Crossed arms might make me look defensive and create a barrier between me and the speaker. Have you ever noticed that we lean forward towards a speaker when we are captivated by what he’s saying?
We don’t just have to listen to words, but also tone of voice, and there’s body language to interpret too. Have you ever had this conversation with a teenager...?
The tone of voice and the look on their faces, even the way they stand, contradicts this answer. I guess we need to listen, not only with our ears, but also with our eyes. (Actually, I think not only is the answer wrong, so is the question.)
I’ve just had another thought… if we are aware someone is not listening to us, should we tell them? How would we do that? It can be awfully frustrating when we know its ‘going in one ear and out the other’. How do we get our children to listen? Could it help to arrange times when they can practise their listening and concentrating skills... like reading out loud to them?
When someone really listens to me, and gives me her full attention, this is what happens… The world shrinks until it contains just the two of us, and I feel like I am at the centre of that world. I feel like there’s nothing more the listener wants to do at that particular moment than listen to me. Have you ever experienced that? It is so very special. I’d love to make others feel that good. So how am I going to do it? How am I going to become a better listener?
That’s all my bits and pieces. I'm sure there's still a lot more to be said. So please stop by and add your listening ideas and experiences.
I've finished my post! That wasn't so bad. Will I be able to write another? How about empathy next? Or does anyone have a different idea?