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August 22, 2008 / Amy Bradney-George

Listen

Sometimes listening can save you the trouble...

Sometimes listening can save you the trouble...

Of all the things I take for granted, I’m constantly surprised by how valuable listening can be. There’s more to it than hearing the words someone says to you, or the sounds around you. I’ve found that really listening to the conversations around me is a way to learn.

One of my part-time jobs when I was younger was working for a small greeting card company. The owner/creator, myself and the marketing manager used to work together through the day, talking to each other when we had the time. The tasks I had to do were fun, but they left my mind free to wander. During those days I not only developed a greater appreciation of ABC Radio National (which we listened to every morning), but I also realised a lot could be learnt from listening to the conversations my colleagues had on the phone. Some may say this is eavesdropping, but it was more the communication skills that interested me, rather than specific conversation topics.

Since then I have been more aware of how listening can create a better environment to work in. The number of times I have heard people say they need help, and then been able to offer my assistance has definitely increased. Plus, when you have to deal with people every day in your job, it helps to know how to really listen to what they’re saying.

Humans tend to say more than the words that come out of their mouth. The tone, emphasis and pitch all help indicate what’s really going on. As if the English language isn’t hard enough to navigate already, we can also gauge someone’s mood from their physical stance and facial expressions. In a sense that’s going beyond listening and into the realm of observing, but it’s all important in the end.

I once had a conversation with two friends which became quite amusing and frustrating. We were excited by some ideas being thrown around, when suddenly one of my friends quietly said, “I don’t think I can cope right now.” My other friend continued to talk excitedly, but I looked at her to see if she was alright. In an instant I suggested we get together later on and wound the meeting up as fast as possible. Afterwards, my stressed friend thanked me for my concern and explained that she had too much on to think about our project. She said it was a relief just to have someone acknowledge her concerns.

Imagine how many times in a day we don’t really listen. Supermarkets are a great example. I’ve been on both sides of the counter at these places, so I know what it can be like going in there. The classic “not properly listening” conversation goes something like this:

A: Hi, how are you?

B: Good thanks, how are you?

A: Good, and how are you?

At some point after A has asked “how are you” for the second time, both people realise the mistake and generally smile awkwardly for a while before the customer pays and leaves. Part of it is the monotony of the job, but part of it is not listening. It’s not exclusive to supermarkets either. I’ve had people do the same thing to me at cafes, bars, work…and the list goes on. If we want to know how people are, why don’t we listen when they tell us?

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