Hello. Are you Listening? I am talking, can you Hear Me?

As the owner of Artfully Speaking Ottawa Speech Therapy in Ottawa Ontario, I explain the importance of LISTENING many times a day to the adolescents and adults I work with.  In your day-to-day life, how many times have you had to repeat yourself to a partner, child, or teammate? We wonder if they may have trouble hearing. It baffles us that we can convey a clear message still to have it misunderstood.  Of course, as an SLP, I always recommend an audiologist test/screen a person’s hearing to be sure there is no hearing loss, but often, it is something more than hearing loss.

What is it then? Listening, Listening, Listening, yes, I said, Listening. It is the foundational aspect of communication. We cannot effectively communicate with others unless we pay attention and listen to what they are saying. It’s so very important.  I have heard endless examples of how poor listening has caused fatal medical errors, started wars, worsened relationships, and increased adolescent recidivism. 

During both virtual speech therapy and “in-person” speech and language therapy sessions at my Ottawa office, LISTENING is always a starting point in the treatment sessions. Why?… Because if a client is unable to listen effectively, they may not understand the directions of their physician, rehab team, and in the current state of our COVID crisis, the necessary precautionary recommendations to keep them safe. 

How would you like to make the world a better place? Well, you can by learning and teaching your children to listen. I believe that learning to listen will definitely make our world a better place! So, here are some basic listening pointers that you can start using right away:

  • Whole body listening. This is not my personal strategy; there are numerous references to this by a variety of resources. Essentially, you want to be sure you are facing the person you are speaking with: Listen with your ears, your eyes, and your whole body…even pointing your feet towards the other person will help. Animals are lucky (in a way) because they can move their ears around to localize sound helping them to hear better. We do not have that ability, BUT whole-body listening does a similar thing by giving our bodies a kinesthetic cue, alerting that it is time to pay attention. So – teachers who are working with wiggly kids in class; couples, trying to communicate from different ends of the house or while cooking. STOP.  Face each other and LISTEN.
  1. Try your hardest to let the other person speak without interruption. Even bite slightly down on the tip of your tongue if you need to. Personally, I have practiced this many times over the years to keep on track. Additionally, I keep a note pad by my desk and summarize the speaker’s message in my mind’s eye. Remember to listen with the intent to be fully present, not only with the intent to reply. It’s a daily practice, but we can do it! Just try it!  Rebecca Shafir, SLP, wrote a book called The Zen of Listening, which is a good resource. You can find more information here:

https://www.chapters.indigo.ca/en-ca/books/the-zen-of-listening-mindful/9780835608268-item.html.

  1. Focus on the message the speaker is trying to convey, instead of just the words. This especially helps people who work with the public in dealing with an angry or irritated customer. Often the customer merely wants to express frustration. Try validating them first, instead of reacting. It’s often not personal. Put yourself in their shoes and have empathy. If you can separate the words from what they are upset about, you are ahead of the game.
  2. Practice active listening, summarizing, and paraphrasing messages. Listen for main ideas and repeat back important points. You can practice this with 10 minutes of a Ted Talk or Podcast, or even the news. 
  3. Finally, take little mindful listening naps throughout the day. Simply close your eyes and listen to the sounds around you. Count how many different sounds you hear. If I do it now, I can hear- the child in the next room doing virtual learning, the dogs snoring, cars passing outside, the wind outside, and the hum of my computer! That is an orchestra of sounds just inside my office where I assume quiet is living. I teach my clients to practice this when going to a busy environment. Just go into the place (usually a store), step aside and out of view, put your head down like you are looking for an item, and identify the sounds in the store before you try to enter and do your shopping. This gives your brain time to process the different sounds, and for you to pause and ground yourself in the environment. 

Listening is pivotal to our success as human beings. Imagine a world where we all listened patiently to one another. How could our world be different if large corporations, governments, school systems, and religious leaders would all listen actively and patiently to one another.  With our current world of everyone having a cube in their pocket, as described by Gretchen Rubin in Happier at Home, distraction is the new way of life. Our brains are so overstimulated that it makes it even harder to listen.  We must retrain ourselves all over again to listen properly. Listening. It. Is. So. Very. Worth. It. Slow down. Make eye contact. Really be present and listen. It’s such a gift. 

Stay tuned for more on listening tips to enhance relationships, connect with children, and how to attune to “our own personal voice”.