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...?

“What’s wrong?”
“Nothing!” 

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?


Post a Comment

  1. Sue, I think listening is connected to caring - is that too simplified?

    I know that when I care about someone, I'm prepared to listen to them go round in circles, talk about things that don't interest me and talk at length when I'm really busy. I'll also be concerned that they feel important.

    I think it's more of a struggle to do when we're tired or stressed ourselves. It can be hard to push aside our own anxieties in favour of someone else's - especially, if we feel that our worries are less trivial.

    Great post, Sue - lots to think about:-)

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    1. Vicky,

      I think you are quite right: If we care, we will be prepared to listen. I will always be so grateful to those friends who listened to me after Thomas' death. I did go round and round in circles, trying to make sense of everything. My friends were so patient with me. I will never forget that.

      Now if we could only listen when we don't really care... that would be the test! Once I was invited to a dinner party where there was an older gentleman talking about his naval days. I really thought he his conversation was rather dull. But the very humble priest who was at the same table gave the man his full attention and acted like he'd never heard anything more interesting. It was a lesson to me. Sometimes we think what we have to say is far more interesting than the conversation of others. Even if it is, it takes real charity to put ourselves last and others first.

      When I am tired, I usually say something like, "I'd love to listen but now's not a good time. Can we have a chat later when I can give you my full attention?" This usually works with my family because they understand. I guess when outsiders want to talk, we have to try and hide our own tiredness and still listen.

      I'm thinking there's a lot more to listening than I imagined! Not easy at times.

      I'm so glad you're joining in with this discussion. Thank you!

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  2. Sue
    You've covered some excellent areas to be aware of; active listening, giving the speaker our full attention, body language, voice tone. To add something else to the mix, we need to be very conscious when communicating with someone that although they could be listening (taking all the above into account) their listening can be distorted by their own experience filter. For example you and I could be listening to Vicky, now Vicky is quite articulate, expresses herself well, so the issue that could arise is not Vicky's communication but her listeners. Listening to Vicky, you as her sister could add on extra nuances, interpretations that I wouldn't, so I could miss something vital and could even distort her message.

    Let's assume Vicky's discussion is something that is controversial that we have differing opinions on, or something I'm rather 'touchy' about. Well I could easily misinterpret or misfilter what is being said.

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    1. Erin,

      You are so right! I guess that's how so many misunderstandings occur. We can all hear the very same words but interpret them differently. The better we know someone, the less of a problem we have.

      I guess if we were having a face-to-face conversation, we could immediately reflect back what the speaker has said. If we have misconstrued something, then she has an opportunity to say, "No. That's not what I meant..." Written words are much more difficult. We don't get the same opportunity to give each other feedback and so we wonder sometimes.

      Controversial subjects and being touchy... Yes, these can be difficult to hear clearly. I don't think we do listen carefully enough. Our emotions get in the way.

      Thank you for your thoughts!

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  3. Erin and Sue,

    I understand about messages being misconstrued. I've been reluctant to write much lately for fear of imposing half-developed opinions on others or causing unintended controversy.

    As an aside, some new thoughts occurred to me during this morning's Rosary. Firstly, Mary had the greatest news of all to tell, when she entered the temple. Yet, she listened to Simeon. Even after he had spoken, she kept her thoughts to herself and mulled them over in her heart. The other thought was that Jesus was only a child, yet the wise scholars listened. Listening to Jesus and including Him in the conversation we have with others is something I've found useful. Asking Him to help us respond and to know when to listen and when to speak helps guard against self-absorption, I think.

    I guess as the layers of pride and vanity are eroded, we realise that our contribution to a conversation isn't as valuable as first thought and the seemingly minor contributions of others can be quite illuminating.

    Did I just write my thoughts after saying I no longer do that? Someone clobber me, please:-/

    God bless:-)

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    1. Vicky,

      I wonder if the reason you are reluctant to write about your opinions is because you HAVE been misconstrued. Have you had some bad experiences? I always find your writing to be very clear and well constructed. Perhaps it's a case of other people not reading carefully enough because they are having problems putting aside their own thoughts and emotions. The problem is with them, not you.

      Now I am thinking about your new thoughts! Yes, it can be so difficult to keep silent... mulling over instead of speaking... We do think we are so important and we find it hard to keep quiet. When to listen and when to speak... What was that quote I read earlier today? Something about we were given one mouth but two ears for a reason.

      I am glad you did write your thoughts. I'm not going to clobber you! I do think it is very valuable to exchange thoughts. Sometimes other people's words stay with us. You don't know where your words have landed and what good they are doing. So don't keep too quiet!

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    2. We probably all get misconstrued sometimes, don't we? I think you're so right about the value of sharing thoughts but, sometimes, the responsibility for stating truth and stating it sensitively weighs heavily with me - especially, when I consider how my thoughts are always evolving.

      I love the quote about the two ears! And I've enjoyed sharing musings with you and Erin, Sue.

      God bless you both:-)

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    3. Vicky,

      I do think our thoughts evolve and sometimes we wish we hadn't said anything previously. I sometimes look back and wonder how I could have said some things as I've moved on so far. But there's humility in admitting our change in thought. Stating truth? Maybe we state things as we see them at the time. If we state them sensitively as you suggest, it is easier to build on them or change them later. Without concrete examples, this musing is a bit vague and maybe I have misinterpreted your thoughts! I guess if we all waited until our thoughts evolved fully we'd never discuss anything. We learn so much from getting together and mulling things over. It's not necessary that we are right, only that we listen and are patient with each other, and are willing to be accepting.

      God bless!

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    4. For me, the problem of writing my thoughts comes from doubt of purpose. When I share pictures and photos, I feel connected to God in a creative way and the connection is pure and spiritual. With writing thoughts, the words flow quickly but the doubts set in afterwards. Is this what God wants me to write or am I writing out of vanity?

      I'm not so much worried about changing my mind or being proven wrong as aware that thoughts and opinions can be very fickle. You have a mission on your blog to write and share your experiences. My thoughts more often go into pictures or cartoons which might look frivolous but usually contain a pondering if you look past the surface.
      God bless, Sue:-)

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    5. Vicky,

      "I feel connected to God in a creative way and the connection is pure and spiritual." I feel like that about my writing! There are different ways of communicating. Mine might be words and yours drawings. I won't describe art is frivolous. So many times I gaze upon a picture and feel, learn, ponder ,enjoy, wonder... I am uplifted to God by some art, and your work certainly comes into this category.

      Sometimes I wonder about writing out of vanity. It all comes down to whether I feel that is what God is calling me to do. If I choose not to write, even though I am capable of doing it, then God can never use my words. Actually, I sometimes write and am surprised with the outcome, wondering where the words came from. It doesn't always happen that way. I've written lots of boring mundane stuff too!

      In the same way, I feel sure God has blessed you with an extraordinary gift which you must use, because He will use your art to bring others to Him. You know it's not case of vanity when you're drawing, even though you may wonder when you're writing.

      So maybe we have to do what we feel comfortable with, and what reflects our God given talents which I feel sure God wants us to use.

      God bless!

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  4. "I guess as the layers of pride and vanity are eroded, we realise that our contribution to a conversation isn't as valuable as first thought"
    Excellent thought! and one I ponder from time to time. There can be so much 'noise', what's to say my contribution is really worth it?

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    1. Erin,

      I think those words of Vicky's are good too. I can remember in the past, fighting to have my say, when my words weren't really worth much anyway. When everyone is doing that, no one is listening at all.

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  5. Sue - As I've started learning about Buddhism, I've also started learning to listen. It's called "mindfulness" - i.e. whatever you're doing, you focus your full attention on.

    I think I grew up not feeling heard, so I tended to overcompensate as an adult...especially when I meet a kindred spirit and can't believe they're saying exactly what's in my head :)

    -A.

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    1. Angela,

      I'm guessing you are listening not just to words with your ears? I think we could all do with focusing all our attention on one thing at a time. There's a lot of 'noise' out there. People especially deserve our attention.

      I just love meeting kindred spirits. "can't believe they're saying exactly what's in my head" That is a great feeling. But are you saying we can focus too much on such relationships?

      This has just reminded me of another fault of mine. I can be at a gathering and I find my kindred spirit and we start talking and listening and really we are in a different world from everyone else. This is all rather impolite if there are other people about because they feel excluded. Kids do this a lot without realising. They leave the quiet child out etc and don't even notice. Not good social skills at all.

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    2. Sue -

      Not focusing too much, no. Just getting so excited that I interrupt when they talk :D

      -A.

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    3. Angela,

      I now understand! Thanks for explaining. Maybe, both kindred spirits interrupt each other, and it's not the problem of only one person. I can remember conversations like this. In a way it's exciting. In another way it's frustrating as we never seem to finish saying anything before the conversation has jumped ahead to another point. Certainly the conversation moves swiftly!

      God bless.

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  6. WOW! This is an amazingly rich conversation! I have nothing to add but everything to learn... so I'm here listening!

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    1. Nancy,

      I felt sure you'd have something to add about St Francis de Sales. I get this idea he was a wonderful listener and overall communicator.

      Thank you for following the discussion!

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  7. Hi Sue,
    I'm interested in these posts on communication skills too. I've enjoyed reading both your posts and the comments that followed. My daughter can also tell when I only give her "half an ear" and she always says something like Gemma-Rose does. They always know :)

    So, I guess my communication skills could use a make-over though I DO try. It's usually when I'm deeply involved with something else that I find I don't pay full attention to the speaker. Thinking about it, I realize that it's rather insulting to not give the other person our full attention. It says "This is not important to me." Or even "You are not important to me." You make good points in your post about distractions. It rarely hurts to lay things aside for a bit, right? And as you say, when we really listen it DOES make the other person feel special. We can't give others our undivided attention if we are only half there.

    Thank you for a wonderful post. I look forward to your next one!

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    1. Mary,

      Oh yes! When we are deeply involved with something else... I am terrible when I am writing. It's hard to come back to earth and listen properly. Is it bad to ask people to come back later? I quite often say such things as, "Give me half an hour then we can talk properly." My family have to make appointments with me! I suppose if it's nothing urgent there's no harm in doing this. It makes our children realise they have to be considerate, and can't just interrupt when they feel like it. Of course I have to keep my end of the bargain and pay full attention at the time we've agreed upon.

      There are lots of times when it's just not convenient to listen. I am thinking of telephone calls at inappropriate times, my Jehovah Witness lady who likes to talk when I am trying to do stuff with the girls... Callum and I were talking yesterday about how people expect the telephone to be answered straight away, and usually no one asks if it's convenient to talk. The caller just launches into whatever she wants to say. There have been times when I've ignored the telephone especially if we're eating dinner. It's so difficult. We all sit and stare at the phone willing it to stop making a noise! It sounds like it's saying, "Answer me! Answer me!" Once I let slip I'd not answered the phone, and the would be caller got so upset with me. We have an answering machine so I feel a caller can leave a message if I don't answer.

      But when we do listen, I agree we need to listen fully. It does make people feel special and make them feel we care about them.

      Thank you for your comment! You're looking forward to another post? That's great! But what can I come up with? Maybe I'll mix these posts in with some regular posts. All this serious stuff is hard work!

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  8. I just found this quote from "The Hidden Power of Kindness" by Fr Lovasik...

    Courtesy is manifested clearly in conversation. You are a poor listener if you are solely interested in leading every conversation and showing no interest in anything that is said by others; if you are uneasy while others are speaking and are thinking only of what you are going to say when you get a chance; if you belittle the truth or value of what others say by always butting in something more significant, always topping their stories with something better; if you interrupt others in order that you may speak and reveal your pride and self-love; or if you are unable to keep silence while others are managing to keep a conversation alive.

    You are a good listener if you listen gravely and with interest to others because you realise that you do not know everything and there is always something to be learned. Only the fool is so wrapped up in himself and his own ideas that he is bored with listening to others. You are a good listener if you listen as much as you talk, because thereby you want to show kindness and consideration to others. By doing so, you will give them joy, earn their confidence and open the way to innumerable other forms of charity. As a good listener, you translate into your conduct the virtues of humility and charity. These virtues are all the greater when the conversation of others is dull or ignorant or commonplace.

    It is uncharitable to ignore certain of one's companions during a conversation. This done when, in a group of three or more persons, two of the group launch out into a personal conversation whose subject matter and interest completely exclude the other members of the group. This springs from selfishness and a sense of self-importance.

    If you are guilty of such self-centred conversation, you reveal just how small you are. Charity demands, and the rules of politeness (which are charity in action) prescribe, that your personal interests be subordinated to the interests of a group. This hold for all - the famous no less than the obscure.

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    1. I love this, Sue:-)

      A quote from My Imitation has been ingrained in my mind - "As often as I have been amongst men, I have returned less a man." It makes me realise how carefully we need to conduct ourselves in public and how impossible it is to get right without Jesus right beside us,

      This has been such a stimulating discussion. Something's nudging me to swap my early morning reading from My Daily Bread to My Imitation, now - I think I'm seeing the connection to the layperson's life more clearly.

      God bless, Sue:-)

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    2. Vicky,

      This quote sums up so much of what we have been discussing.

      I am glad you have been part of the discussion. You've given me lots to think about!

      God bless!

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