Do You Hear What I Hear?

by Bruce W. Hall

Do you know folks who constantly talk too much? People who ramble endlessly in self-absorbed conversation? Have you ever found yourself the recipient of their long-winded recitations, which, of course, you zone out in sixty seconds? If so, youíre not alone. In fact, studies show, more likely than not, weíre all guilty, on occasion, of having committed the very same vocal transgressions. Itís called human nature. Itís in our genetic make-up. We talk because, well, we can.

There are sound biological reasons why talking is essential. For example, sometimes it may serve as an important social function to share comforting ideas, enjoy laughter, or develop relationships on a deeper level. We might talk to exchange useful information, seek help, offer instructions, even warn people of danger.

Talkativeness may result from factors like nervousness, insecurity, and distress. Some people talk out of arrogance, pride, or a deep-seeded desire for self-assurance. In other words, we talk because itís the most basic of all human needs; to be understood and to understand.

How do you express yourself? Do you blog, Twitter, text message, and email? Many people do with great regularity. What about MySpace, Facebook, or YouTube? Are these compelling venues that drive you to share ideas, experiences, and opinions? Is there a cell phone in your life, which you use while driving, shopping, in a restaurant, or at the movies? On the other hand, is speaking face-to-face your preference?

Whatever the format, most discourse is the result of our biologically hardwired drive to communicate. In a recent study from UCLA, Matthew Lieberman, the lead author says, ďExpressing your feelings in words short-circuits the bodyís reactions by preventing stress hormones from being released.Ē Sharing in language what we feel emotionally can help make sense of ourselves. Theoretically, one might think this important form of stress release should make our planet a more pleasant place to live. On the other hand, by any standard of reasonable thinking, with the instant, indiscriminateness of so much communication, who in the world has time for listening?

Science reveals that our brainís complexity is like a computer. We are pre-programmed with the impossibility of thinking, and talking at the same time. Thus, itís extremely difficult to receive information when our mouth is moving out information. In other words, we cannot talk and listen to others simultaneously.

This begs the question, when was the last time you heard someone, really listened so intently that you kept your ego out of the conversation and actually focused on their words and meaning? Conversely, how long has it been since you felt another person was fully present in the conversation, completely tuned into hearing your every word? Among our five senses, itís the two-part harmony formed by hearing and listening, which is essential for effective communication.

Hearing refers to the physical dimension of sound waves striking the ear. The brain then processes them into meaningful information. Listening is a much more complicated process, which requires concentration, for itís the absorption of meanings of words and sentences that leads to the understanding of facts and ideas. Hearing is automatic, made possible by physical movement. Listening, which enables us to gather valuable information to understand certain situations, make more informed decisions, and exercise critical judgment, can only be learned.

The thoughts you think, the images you hold, and the feelings you experience are based significantly upon what you hear and how well you listen. Listening creates a state of mindfulness, of bringing yourself more completely into reality, shaping identity and transforming potential into actuality. You feel more in the moment. You are better able to cope with the challenges of life. You experience improved relationships with others because the talker is encouraged to share thoughts and feelings, provide valid information and answer relevant questions. You feel a reduction in stress and tension, because you are able to gather more accurate information in time of crisis. Listening can actually enable you to speak more easily, relaxed, and confident, when it is your turn.

Finally, research shows that thereís a noticeable physiological response to listening; blood circulates faster, the heart rate and body temperature accelerate slightly, which means you focus more intently.

Listening is an art form, a skill that requires time, energy, and discipline. Itís not easy. Most of us only listen as long as our patience and appetite allow. Even professional listeners like psychiatrists, counselors, and personal development coaches admit to drifting occasionally. However, the process can be mastered with practice and concentration by anyone.

Here are some helpful tips that can make you an excellent listener and ultimately, a great conversationalist. When you hear that someone wishes to speak with you, listen to make sense of the words and understand their meaning. Maintain eye contact throughout the conversation. Resist any urge to jump in. Allow the talker to finish his or her original train of thought before responding.

Additionally, though it may seem awkward at first, show understanding of the other personís feelings with appropriate acknowledgement such as laughter, a nodding of the head in agreement, or empathy. Even during a phone conversation, you can apply attentive listening skills. Donít interrupt unless absolutely necessary. Only ask questions pertinent to the topic being discussed.

Finally, as Shakespeare wrote, ďThe fragrance of the rose lingers on the hand that casts it.Ē The longer you talk the less others listen. However, the more you listen, and showcase it by asking questions as a result of your superior listening skills, the sooner you will discover a surprisingly effective way of being around the most enjoyable people.

Copyright © 2009, by Bruce W. Hall. All rights reserved.

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