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Good listening — The liberating ear

JAMES A. GRIEPP

GOD CREATED the ear to catch and transmit sound to the brain, enabling messages to be received and interpreted. Too often human ears become like those of heathen gods– "Having ears, they hear not" (Psalm 135:17).

Effects of Good Listening

Listening in everyday conversation can help toward solving problems just as in scheduled counseling sessions. A good listener draws out an individual, allowing opportunity to express deep-seated feelings–latent aspirations, sorrow, fear, hate, and other pent-up emotions that have made life ineffective and unhappy. An attentive ear is often liberating.

In conversations people share personal experiences. A listener can be enriched, and the people are released by opportunities to give something of their lives.

Conversing with a good listener is an inner catharsis–getting something off your chest. However, such listening is not always pleasant.

Hearing people out often helps them crystallize their thinking and allows them to verbalize their thoughts–abandoning some, building on others, and reaching a satisfactory conclusion. On the other hand, people may not know what they believe about a subject until they voice an opinion, which solidifies their thinking.

A good listener, while avoiding giving directives, helps others solve their own problems. Ask guided questions, such as "What are the advantages of attending hometown college?" or "Why do you feel miserable in Jane’s presence?"

Characteristics of Good Listening

A good listener must listen carefully to the person speaking. C.H. Spurgeon said, "It is an annoyance...if a blind man does not look me in the face when I speak."

Many marriages could be saved if couples learned the power of listening. Someone has said: "Before a couple marries, he talks and she listens. On the honeymoon, she talks and he listens. After they settle into their home, they both talk and no one listens." Distraught wives in psychiatrists’ offices express the feelings of many: "If only my husband listened to me like you do."

A good listener gives undivided attention to the one speaking. A speaker who finds a good listener is encouraged to be more expressive. Then others become eager to hear also. A good audience is more than half the secret of a good speech. If it is true for a group, it is doubly true of single listeners.

It takes concentrated, disciplined effort to be a good listener. Gazing around the room, showing unconcern for what is said, can be disconcerting to a speaker. An attentive listener will be relaxed. Becoming ill at ease or fidgety focuses attention on the movements. Sensitive speakers will cut their conversations short.

A crucial time is the pause of silence that accents a meaningful conversation. We tend to say or do something, but silent moments are important.

During a period of perhaps 30 seconds a person may review what he or she has said, ponder its relevance to the present point, or clarify personal feelings. Quiet times in conversation are creative silences–at the opposite pole from clamming-up or getting-even silences. Silence is often more eloquent than words.

Negative Listening Traits

Often-used phrases are "to be turned on" or "to be turned off." The following listener traits can turn one off in conversation:

The nervous response–a quick, irrelevant surface answer without careful thought.

The corrector–a person who feels compelled to keep the record straight on mispronounced words, approximate dates, questionable statements, etc.

Jumping ahead–the average speaker verbalizes about 125 words per minute while the thought process is four times that speed. Therefore, a listener must avoid breaking into a conversation with a projected conclusion that sidetracks the speaker.

Self-assertiveness–self-centered persons are poor listeners. Their minds continually run in self-interest areas. The magic of conversation disappears when people are interested only in hearing themselves discussed.

Sleuthing–persons who are not satisfied with the information you give them, but pry into private affairs like a cross-examining lawyer. People will tell you what they want you to know.

Preoccupation–a daydreamer is present only in body. For lack of attention and genuine interest, communication falls flat; the sharing process is not accomplished.

The cry of every age has been for someone to hear. Seneca wrote in 4 B.C., "Listen to me for a day, for an hour, a moment, lest I expire in my terrible wilderness, my lonely silence. Oh God, is there no one to listen?"