hear

You have undoubtedly told someone or have heard another person say, “What is said to you, goes in one ear and out the other.”

One of my pet peeves is for someone to respond to me prior to my completing my question or thought. Many of you have had this experience. Just as you began to respond to a question or statement, someone begins to speak. In many cases, they do not have the foggiest idea what you were going to say; they simply anticipated your response.

Many of us do not realize that we are bad listeners.

While it may be my imagination, it appears that people are far less likely to listen today than in the past. While most of us think we are good listeners, an Internet posting by Ed Hess, professor at the University of Virginia’s Darden Graduate School of Business and the author of the new book “Learn or Die,” agrees with what I have been thinking. He points out that listening skills are becoming more challenging but growing more essential to our success. He argues, “It used to be that the smartest guy in the room was the one who was constantly talking but now, the smartest person in the room is the one who asks the right questions and then truly listens to what others have to say.”

People have pondered the question of whether people today are the quality listeners that they were back in the day. In pondering a response to this question, I encourage you to reflect on those moments, as a young child, spent with your parents. How well we remember these words: Children should be seen and not heard.

With her index finger pointed at you, mother would tell you in “no uncertain words” that you should listen more and talk less. You may have heard, “You hear me, but you are not listening.”

Some of you possibly recall being directed to sit down as your parent wanted to talk with you. Whether you wanted to or not, you sat and were told, “boy (or girl), look at me. I have something that I must get off of my mind.” You remember that you sat, at attention, and listened. You may also recall the days when your parent, teacher or someone that was in a position of authority would tell you something and insist that you repeat what was said to you. Patrick Byron, in a Jan. 18 article in The Startup, called “Some Tips On Getting the Most Out of Listening,” puts out a few things that were not applicable to what many of us knew and how many of us behaved in the past. He points out that there is a distinct difference between hearing and listening.

Hearing is a physiological act; listening involves our ability to unpack the meaning of words and the silences in between.”

incessantly. It has been said that some people talk so much and so often that nothing of significance comes out of their mouths. Perhaps you have friends and associates that you prefer not to be around because they talk so much; you tend to stop listening.

Some will experience times when more information than you wanted to hear was shared with you. You were told to “chew some and spit some out.” In other words, listen and consume those things that are relevant and meaningful and let the rest go.

You once understood that the more you talked, the less you could listen. So, you consumed things and internalized words. After listening carefully, you responded by making your point and then kept quiet. Failure to listen was not a factor in our interactions with others in the past; we were forced to listen, back in the day,

Some of you had the experience of being with a group of older people and having been told to excuse yourself when serious or “adult” discussions began. As a child, having others say what was on their minds with you in the room, particularly in a group setting, was a sign of acceptance. I can still recall images of my parents or others being told to hold their point until I was out of the room.

Sometimes, I was told that it was time to go to my room. Perhaps you heard words as others were attempting to communicate while concealing the true nature of the discussion if you were in the room. This included words or expressions such as shush, zip it, pipe down, button up, and watch your tongue or a term unique to Tribune employees, CB.

And then one day, the transition period arrives.

You may have memories of the day when you became an accepted part of the group and were finally permitted to express yourself and more importantly, your words were taken seriously. But, in expressing yourself, in a group or in a one-on-one encounter, it is not unusual for what is said to be forgotten within a few minutes. Why is this occurring more today than, back in the day?

Examining your surroundings provides clues as to what distracts us today when we attempt to listen. Let us start with our mobile devices: the number of rings for telephone calls; the unique sounds for email notification; and, the dings which alert us to incoming text messages, are constant distractions. When we are not distracted by technology, our own personal thoughts sometimes prevent us from listening to others. Now, be honest, at times, some of us pretend to be listening but we are looking for alternatives to escape a boring conversation.

While I cannot recall the source, I read somewhere that only 10% of us listen effectively. So, do you rate yourself as a good listener? I understand from digging into this matter that most people believe that they are good listeners. But, if you did not benefit from the tough and strict lessons of your parents, neighbors, teachers and friends, who drilled into you the importance and benefits of active listening, here are some ways to improve your listening skills in this fast-paced era. Co-author Minda Zetlin, in a May 5, 2015 article, in The Geek Gap, titled “8 Reasons You’re a Worse Listener Than You Think (and How to Get Better)” offers these suggestions that may bode well for you as you work to improve the way you listen to others. She argues that you should plan your response while the other person is talking; stop assuming you know what the other person is about to say as finishing another person’s sentence is rude; no interruptions, verbal and non-verbal; do not let your mind wander to something that seems more important; do not interpret the speaker’s message to match your own views; do not share your own experience rather than asking about the speaker’s experience; do not offer advice before being asked; do not become defensive about negative feedback.

So, the next time you are in a one-on-one conversation or involved in a group discussion, put into practice those suggestions that may help you become an active listener. Understand and internalize the importance of good listening skills as good listening skills can take you a long, long way. Commit yourself to improving your listening skills even by taking notes; a practice many of us used back in the day and some still practice today.

Alonzo Kittrels can be reached at backintheday@phillytrib.com or The Philadelphia Tribune, Back In The Day, 520 S. 16th St., Philadelphia, PA 19146

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