Listen Up!

conversation-smWith all the turmoil going on in the world right now, it’s made me think a lot about listening and how often we don’t do it well. When we are passionate, in particular, we tend to want others to listen to us and even when we allow them to speak, we are formulating our comebacks rather than paying attention to what’s being said. It’s been on my mind so much that I made it part of my reflection piece at the end of a class I was taking. I figured, since I am so preoccupied with this thought, I should use it as the topic of my blog this week.

Why should we listen?  There are many reasons to listen, but I think the most important is that it shows respect for your conversation partner. This is true in the classroom and in life. If you show the person the respect of hearing them out, even if you disagree, I believe it makes it easier to accept the other opinion and discuss the topic more rationally. If you roll your eyes or shake your head in a negative manner or talk over – the worst – the other person, you are signaling not only your disagreement, but your distain for their opinion. This type of behavior will likely lead to an escalation of emotion and an unwillingness on your partner’s side to listen to your point of view. The result? Two or more people feeling resentful and unwilling to consider each other’s point of view.

You also won’t learn anything new if you don’t listen. Speaking is important, but you already know what and how you feel about the topic, so why not give someone else a chance to present alternative or additional information? They may have a perspective that you hadn’t considered or have information that has previously been unavailable to you, giving you the chance to increase your knowledge and reexamine your beliefs. It might also do the same for your conversation partner. If you listen to them speak with respect and attention they may listen to you in the same manner.

As teachers, we need to listen to our students and give them the respect they deserve as they learn to formulate ideas and opinions. I remember one teacher of mine in high school reading a poem on the first day of class. She then asked if anyone had an interpretation of the poem they would like to share. I raised my hand and stated mine. She started shaking her head no before I’d finished and then told me that I was wrong. I was embarrassed and proceeded to inform her that wasn’t possible. I told her that an interpretation was just that, an opinion, an idea. It couldn’t possibly be wrong. It might not be what the author had in mind or what she believed, but it was my belief. The result was two unhappy, embarrassed people who never connected or enjoyed each other’s company, which was particularly painful for me as it was literature, my favorite subject. What if she had not started to shake her head no before I finished? What if she had said something like, interesting thought? Here’s the generally accepted interpretation or here’s my interpretation. What do you think? The outcome would have likely been an interesting discussion or at least a less hostile relationship.

As teachers and listeners in all sorts of situations should remember, be a good listener and others are more likely to return the favor. Be sure to:

  • Focus on the speaker, not your response.
  • Look at them and if appropriate, give signals that you are hearing them, even if you don’t agree.
  • Put your phone/tablet down! Nothing signals a lack of attention as much as a social media device in hand.
  • Do not roll your eyes, shake your head in a negative way or any similar form of negative expression. Save your response for when it is your turn to speak, otherwise they will become distracted and the conversation will likely become a shouting match or a point/counterpoint conversation with no real dialogue.
  • Recognize that you might have something to learn from this person. You don’t necessarily have all the facts, and let’s face it, our experiences and upbringing play a large part in our viewpoints and might be a little of base.
  • Don’t talk while they are talking! It is highly disrespectful and leads to all sorts of negative possibilities.
  • If you are not sure about something, don’t just assume they are wrong. Ask for clarification. It shows you are listening and want to understand their point of view.
  • DO NOT try and monopolize the conversation. It doesn’t matter if you are expert on the subject. No one enjoys being forced to listen to endless comments from someone, particularly if that person is unwilling to return the favor. Be short, succinct and respectful.

A teacher who listens and shows respect is setting a wonderful example for his/her students. Good listeners are appreciated everywhere, so it is an important lesson to learn. Try to remember that the next time you are tempted to interrupt a student, colleague or friend. I know I will.




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