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Hard of hearing

I suspect we have all heard of stories about or even lived with someone who was “hard of hearing”.

My father was a very gentle soul who was hard of hearing. He learned to live with it and compensate for it with the help of hearing aids and lip reading. But in this age of masks, I have heard many people, including myself, speaking of their surprise at much lip reading they relied on.

There were times when it seemed he had bouts of “wife-deafness” (not to be confused with the variant “mother-deafness”). He seemed to “tune out” what my mother was talking about and then “tune in” when he heard a word or phrase that captured his attention. It wasn’t a case of “defective hearing” as much as “selective hearing”.

“Hard of listening”

Recently I explored the difference between “hearing” and “listening” and the various type of listening.

Hearing is the simple physiological act of hearing sounds. Listening means  to pay attention to sound; to hear something with thoughtful attention; and to give consideration.”

I was struck by three types of listeners

  1. Convinced or combative listeners (the “hard of listening” characteristic of so much of our political discourse today)
  • Does this fit in with what I already know?
  • If not, how can I prove I am right or that the other is wrong?
  • What flaws can I find?

2. Curious listeners

  • What can I learn?
  • How can I use what I learn?

3. Sensitive listeners

  • What is going on here beneath the surface?
  • What is this person feeling… and why?

Some 5 decades ago when I was in a program for marriage therapists I was introduced to “listening with the third ear”. This was Theodore Reik’s image for listening to what the person may not be able to recognize, much less say. (This is the kind of listening that most mothers develop quickly as they try to hear what their crying child is trying to say.)

Phrases that encourage listening and speaking

For me one of the most interesting things about listening was a piece in Forbes magazine 15 Phrases That Build Bridges Between People.

In the context of this reflection it struck me how important the following  phrases are to the best kind of listening

Consider sprinkling these phrases into your daily conversations:

  • Thank You: Whether given in private or public, a sincere ‘thanks’ creates goodwill.
  • I Don’t Know: We don’t have all the answers. And it scares us to death. That’s a perfect point to start a dialogue. Facing the unknown – and seeking assurances and answers – bonds people like nothing else. All you have to do is first admit what you don’t know.
  • Tell Me More: “I’m all ears.” It’s the ultimate conversation starter! When you signal that you’re open and intrigued, the other party will respond in kind.
  • What I Hear You Saying Is: So here’s a way to keep the ideas flowing. Step back and rephrase what someone says. It implies that you’re engaged, increasing the likelihood you’ll get more detail. It’s a win-win for everyone.
  • I Understand: People long to know they’re not alone, seeking others who’ve been where they are – and have successfully made it through. Helping someone paying attention to what a person has to say.

How are you as a listener?

  • Which listening style do you practice most?
  • How often do you use phrases that show you are a listener?

Click below for an audio version of the Vincentian Mindwalk

Hard of Listening