According to the Oxford Living Dictionaries, to listen is to give attention to sound or action. When listening, one is hearing what others are saying, and trying to understand what it means. The act of listening involves complex affective, cognitive, and behavioral processes. Wow, that sounds like a lot!

Giving attention to action or sound means that we focus our mind on behavior or sound that needs a reaction from us. That is awareness. The sound of a crying baby gets our attention and we take action to grasp why the infant is crying. The next step is to try to understand the message. Is the baby uncomfortable, hungry, wet? Once we determine that, we can respond accordingly.

The crying baby example was easy. The listening process gets more complicated when we are interacting with non-infants! What parent hasn’t asked their child, “Did you hear me?” or “Are you listening to what I’m telling you?” Of course if the parent is asking those questions, the child obviously has not responded in the way the parent wanted, causing the parent to conclude that they didn’t understand the request. In most cases, the children heard and understood what their parents were asking them to do, but didn’t do it. Let’s explore a few reasons people choose not to listen.

Hidden Agendas – On house selling program, a couple tells the Realtor that they want a four-bedroom ranch house with a backyard for the kids and pets. The agent shows them a three-bedroom townhouse with a balcony. The couple shakes their heads in disbelief, because the property was not what they asked for. Did the agent understand what they wanted, or did they have a hidden agenda of wanting to unload a property that had been hard to sell?

Virtue-Signaling – People who communicate in this style, want to project a certain image. Someone who has not voted in years, may suddenly become vigilant about the upcoming election because others are saying how important this election is. They want to be viewed as the “virtuous person” doing the right thing!

Disinterest – The child who hears their parents’ directives, but chooses to ignore them could simply be disinterested in the requests. They don’t want to take out the trash, do their homework, get dressed.

Listening is hard work! Awareness is key in successful communication. That can mean awareness of your role as listener or sender of information. You have no control over whether people listen to you, however you can be aware of what’s going on. When you are aware, you can seek to communicate in the most effective way. Back to the crying baby…the noise made you aware that the baby was sending a message. Though the infant cannot articulate the reason for the unrest, as the receiver of the information, you immediately start checking out the possibilities.

In communicating we are either the listener or sender of information. Clarity is important in both situations. Called reflective or active listening, the first steps to precise communication include:

  • being aware of your biases and predispositions
  • listening with the intent to understand
  • asking questions to clarify what has been said
  • repeating your understanding of the sender’s message

Listening is complicated process and is no easy task! The best way to improve your listening skills is not by trying to change how others respond. You can only control your behavior, so when someone is not responding as you think they should, or if you aren’t understanding their message, be aware of it and respond accordingly.

Frances Goddard, LCSW, BCD”
Diane Harvey, LCSW