Many of our patients who come in because of hearing difficulties are bothered because their personal relationships have suffered from a lack of true communication. According to communication research, we spend 70% of our lives communicating in one way or another—and 45% of that is done in listening. For those of us who may experience hearing loss, that means 45% of our time is spent in an activity that may be more difficult for us than for others. Here are a few good rules for becoming a good listener.
- Stop talking. Mark Twain said, “If we were supposed to talk more than we listen, we would have two tongues and one ear.” Don’t talk over the person you are listening to and don’t try to finish their sentence or interrupt. Just stop and really listen.
- Prepare yourself to listen. This is particularly important for those with hearing loss. Turn off the t.v. or radio or anything else that might distract you. Put distracting thoughts out of your mind and prepare to concentrate on the person in front of you.
- Positioning—make sure the person you want to listen to is exactly that—right in front of you. That way, you will be able to pick up on the non-verbal clues that make up a big part of important communication. Is the person teary-eyed? Are they nervous or jittery? Is their smile reaching their eyes?
- Put the speaker at ease. Nod and use other gestures to urge them to continue. Maintain eye contact, but don’t stare—show you are listening and trying to understand what they are saying.
- Ask for clarification if needed. If you didn’t hear or understand something that was said, gently ask them to repeat themselves. This is not a good time to nod and pretend that you understood—you may miss something important and cause much more embarrassment than simply asking for a repeat of what was said.
- Be patient—with them and with yourself. Sometimes it takes a while to get to the heart of an issue. A pause in conversation isn’t always a bad thing. Sometimes people need a chance to figure out how to share something important to them.
- Wait and watch for non-verbal communication. Gestures, facial expressions and eye-movements are as important as the words used. If possible, make sure that important conversations happen in person instead of on the phone, especially if you have a hearing loss that makes telephone conversations difficult. I remember when I was living in Brazil for a time. My Portuguese was pretty good when speaking to people in person, but I could only understand about 20% of what people said on the phone. If distance is a problem, there are great internet based solutions such as Skype that allow you to see and talk to a loved one across the world.
- Ask good questions to verify your understanding and to validate what the person is saying. Simple questions like, “So how does that make you feel when your teacher won’t let you answer any questions?” can go a long way in helping people to know that we are listening and help them to express their feelings.
Practicing good listening skills can go a long way to build relationships that we treasure. Dr. E.H. Mayo once said, “One friend, one person who is truly understanding, who takes the trouble to listen to us as we consider a problem, can change our whole outlook on the world.” You can make the difference by hearing, listening and seeking to understand those you love.