Are you listening? really?


Give The Gift Of Listening

Every year there are plenty of articles with tips on how to survive Christmas and the New Year.  What is marketed as a joyful time, for many, Christmas is lonely, sad and stressful.  As the year draws to an end, we may hold in our minds those who have died or are absent from our lives.  We may lament not having children for Santa to visit or lament the enormous demands being placed on Santa by our children.

I have no advices for Christmas 2015 and am not going to suggest you drink less alcohol; make time for you; spend within budget; set aside differences; eat healthily; sleep well; exercise; laugh; smile; plan; breathe deeply; avoid arguments; ask for help; say no; get fresh air or talk encouragingly to yourself.

I am going to make one suggestion – that you give the gift of listening! 

Imagine you pop into your local shop close to Christmas Day because you want to pick up milk.  You are in a hurry to get home and do not do any other shopping.  Just as you are about to join the queue to pay, someone you know (a neighbour, a friend’s parent, someone from choir etc.) comes up to you and says “Hello”.  You say only four words “Hi, how are you?”

Try to imagine this person responds to your question by telling you exactly how things are – in great detail. You get to hear about a recent illness; about a child who had measles, the rash caused concern; you hear about a car with an inexplicable noise that needs a service but the cost is a worry and so on and so forth…and the conversation continues and continues.

Try to visualise that scenario. How would you react?  Would you freely give your time and listen?  Would your mind wander elsewhere?  Would you hear everything that is being said?  Would the speaker know whether you are listening?  We often appear to be listening even when we are not.  We nod in agreement and make sympathetic faces but if anyone realised what was going on in our heads they would be surprised about how little of the conversation we are absorbing.

When a friend or family member is speaking, do you give your undivided attention?  Do you try to finish his/her sentences or suggest words or names in an attempt to help or to speed up the conversation?  Have you ever been accused of not listening?  Has someone recounted a story to you and while mid-flow, you are trying to formulate your response?

There are several reasons why we are not great listeners.  We speak at the rate of about 140 words per minute and process information at the rate of about 400 words per minute.  This means we have plenty spare time to think about things other than the conversation.  Who the speaker is also impacts on our listening skills because if we think a speaker has something important to tell us, we will concentrate harder on what is being said.   You may be distracted by what is going on around you when someone is speaking.

When we speak, we want to be heard and we want to feel that others are genuinely interested in what we have to say.  The next time you have a conversation, give the gift of listening and try to hear what is being said.

Listening and hearing will improve your communication skills. Decide to be relaxed and freely give the speaker your time (this is your gift).   Pay attention to the verbal and non-verbal content of what is being said.  Watch the speaker for facial expressions and other physical cues.  Concentrate hard.  Put your concerns and distractions out of your mind and commit to the conversation.

Use positive, open body language to show you are interested in what is being said.  Face the speaker (and face your feet towards the speaker) with uncrossed arms and legs. Maintain eye contact but not so much that the speaker is unsettled/freaked out by you and not so little that you signal you are bored and wish you were elsewhere.  Try not to judge the speaker and what is being said – try to remain open-minded.    You may be the only person who will listen.   Do not interrupt.

It is perfectly fine, when someone is talking, to nod which demonstrates understanding and to say “yes” or okay” or “that must be upsetting / great / exciting / xxx for you”.  When someone is talking, there is no need to volunteer your opinion – wait until you are asked before you share it.

There is nothing wrong with pauses or silence both can demonstrate listening and a willingness for further, open dialogue.  When you change how you listen, you change what you hear.  Enjoy your Christmas!

Caroline Crotty (Counselling & Psychotherapy) works on an individual basis with adults & with teens in The Natural Clinic, Cork and Bantry  & Waterford. Caroline provides positive wellbeing presentations and workshops to organisations, schools and community groups.  Contact Caroline on 087 710 7032 or email: or book online at or through reception on 0214 311 977


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