Listening well requires discipline and thought. Our thoughts are things we own – they emerge from our personal schemas, as defined in a previous blog. Simply stated, our thoughts are the instruments we use to arrange and outline our unique maps of the world. Furthermore, our thoughts are direct descendants of our perceptions, which have been born out of our personal experiences.
Because of how they are created, thoughts can be fickle. For example, think about attending a movie with a group of friends. Afterwards, you excitedly discuss your favorite characters, scenes and lines. It soon becomes apparent that everyone has different favorites! Who or what did you focus on compared to the others? You begin to wonder if they even viewed the same movie! Even more compelling is the realization that you will also watch this same film in a week or even years later only to find that your own viewpoint has changed. What have you experienced since viewing it the first time? Thoughts evolve. They can be tricky; reality is not always certain.
In our efforts to hear not only what we want to hear, but also to pay attention to the rest of what is being said, we have to cultivate our awareness in order to become better listeners. Awareness asks us to expand our thinking by calling our perceptions into question, possibly even prompting us to change them. Communication research bears out that perception creation is a process. First, we select what we pay attention to because we cannot attend to everything that bombards us daily. Next, we arrange our selections in ways that make them meaningful to us. Researchers tell us that we also classify our perceptions in a number of ways before we interpret them through our own prisms. Finally, when our interpretation differs from another’s, we exchange ideas and narratives that allow us to negotiate their meanings. Interestingly, this is but one example of how we influence one another through listening.
If, as you read these blogs, you have interpreted their contents as helpful, allowing you to evaluate your own listening style, let’s close with this: Change does not happen when we separate ourselves from that which we want to change. Change is challenging because it involves recognition, learning and action – we have to put some skin in the game. Action involves an honest examination of our current listening skills, as well as a commitment to cultivate more awareness so we can, recognize the challenges that keep us ineffective as listeners. We need to study and assimilate various listening responses that let others know we are tuned in to what others are saying. When we take the steps to more effectively control how we listen, we can become more adept listeners.