The Art of Listening

By Syndi Ecker, M.A., BCBA

A funny thing happened today that reminded me how important communication is in so many aspects of life.  I wondered if people think that words alone are communicating.  Although words are important there is a much greater aspect of communication in order to gain the information the speaker is trying to convey.  Good listening cannot be minimized!!!

“When you talk, you are repeating what you already know; but if you listen you may learn something new.” – Dalai Lama

Communication has many facets.  For instance, there is verbal language (the words that are produced), non-verbal language (the tone, gestures, volume, posture, facial expressions, personal space, and inflection and pitch), and social communication (that is the conversational, communication intention and social aspects of communication and then there is written communication.   Since this is not meant to be a lesson on the aspects of communication, I will stop here… BUT YOU GET THE POINT RIGHT??!!  No wonder there is so many opportunities to not get it quite right; there are so many things to think about.

In my role as a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA), we take language very seriously because depending on the use it can be reinforced or punished.  Now what that really means is dependent on the use of language we will either use it more or less depending on how the listener responds.  There in lies the context for this, my first blog.

Many years ago I read a book by James Redfield called the Celestine Prophecy.  The message that I was able to take away from that reading was that we are given so many opportunities to learn about ourselves or who we want to be by the people who are brought into our lives…WOW, I loved that and it gave me a renewed way to view my surroundings and people.  Today, not unlike many other days, was one of those experiences.

“Some people come into our lives for a reason, a season, or a lifetime” –Unknown Author

What I learned today!

I love that I am able to learn something new daily and today’s tidbit was the ever-crucial skill of listening to the speaker using all my senses to make a better connection.  In my work as a BCBA, I try to use tools to help others understand why it is important and how to share the thoughts, feelings, ideas, and sensations that pass through our minds.  Ultimately, we want the receiver or listener to get the same image as the one we have in our heads, we want our communication intention to “match” the receiver’s image in their head.  This is no easy task!  How do I know if that’s been achieved?  Well, I have to become the listener and maybe use clarifying questions until the image is as complete as possibly can be.

Given the state of electronic communication this becomes even more difficult because we are not able to “see” the non-verbal language or “hear” how the words are being conveyed.  No matter what field we are working in or home we are living in, the importance of trying to understand the speaker’s intentions are so important. Today I experienced a disconnect in the speaker-receiver relationship on a post in a social media feed.  This disconnect motivated me to write this.  While each of us does our best to help others, it is not very productive if the speaker has their own agenda and does not take the time to determine the intent of the speaker’s words.  Dr. John Berardi from Precision Nutrition has outlined one strategy that may help with this obstacle.  Dr. Berardi suggests asking a why question five times in order to gain valuable insights into the motives and intentions of others.  If you would like to read more about this, here is the link.

I will leave with another solid motto of mine:

“Seek to Understand rather than to be understood.

Hope everyone will enjoy the rest of his or her day!

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