Everything Is Better When You Listen
Listening is more involved than just nodding your head, muttering the occasional “uh-huh” every so often. What does it mean to listen, and how can you become a better listener?
By Quentin Steen, Representative
One thing the pandemic gives us all is plenty of opportunity to catch up on reading books we’ve been waiting to get at. If you’re like me, I usually save these books for extended periods of time when I can hunker down without too many distractions to really absorb what it is that I’m reading.
Now that a vacation in my near future is highly unlikely, I decided to get my read on. My plan? Read 19 books. If you’ve been reading my Monday Mental Health Moments (MMHM), you will know I’m on my way.
Recently, I downloaded Amazon’s Audible audiobook player to assist me in my quest. I love Audible. It gives me the freedom to educate myself without having to use my eyes, although truth be told, I still prefer the tactile feeling of physically turning pages.
Audible’s advertising uses a tag line that’s been sticking to my brain like Velcro: Listen, because everything is better when you listen. I decided that this MMHM would be an excellent place to explore its meaning to me, especially during this time.
I like the sentiment that everything is better when you listen because it’s so true. I recently had a conversation with a friend who felt very overwhelmed by the havoc that the pandemic is creating all around him. He began by asking if he could talk about it and if I could just listen.
So I listened as he shared his feelings and thoughts about what was consuming his mind. I waited until he opened the door to a conversation by asking me what I thought, and if there was some perspective that I could offer him.
I gave him a few things to consider that I find helpful when I’m trying to navigate the same waters and keep myself from drowning with land in sight. I left the conversation feeling grateful that he trusted me enough to open up and invited him back any time he needs to talk things through.
When I was a kid, I remember my grandmother asking me, “Do you know why God gave you two ears and only one mouth? So you can listen twice as much as you talk.” The sage advice, first articulated by the Greek philosopher Epictetus, has stood the test of time and echoes Audible’s encouragement to listen, because everything is better when you listen.
But what does it mean to listen? I am one of those who has to fight the urge to offer advice or give an answer to problems that I wasn’t asked to solve. I can’t tell you the number of times my wife, Tracy, has said to me, “I don’t want you to fix me. I want you to listen to me.”
Sometimes, we confuse hearing with listening. Hearing is something that our ears are designed to do all on their own. Listening is different. It’s more involved than just nodding our head or muttering the occasional “uh-huh” every so often.
Listening takes concentrated effort to empathize with the person in front of you. To feel with them without judging or feeling the need to solve their issue(s).
When I teach mental health first aid, I like to share a couple of lists of listening statements with participants. Before we verbally walk through each statement, I ask them a question to reflect on to help them evaluate their listening skills:
In the following list, which statements(s) are most true of you when you are not listening to others?
You are not listening to me when . . .
• You say you understand.
• You say you have an answer to my problem before I’ve finished telling you my problem.
• You cut me off before I’ve finished speaking.
• You finish my sentences for me.
• You are dying to tell me something.
• You tell me about your experiences, making mine seem unimportant.
• You refuse my thanks by saying you really haven’t done anything.
In the following list, which statement(s) are most true for you when you know someone is really listening to you?
You are listening to me when . . .
• You try to understand me, even if I’m not making much sense.
• You grasp my point of view, even when it’s against your own sincere convictions.
• You realize the hour I took from you has left you a bit tired and a bit drained.
• You allow me the dignity of making my own decisions, even though you think they may be wrong.
• You do not take my problem from me, but allow me to deal with it in my own way.
• You hold back the desire to give me good advice.
• You do not offer me religious solace when I am not ready for it.
• You give me enough room to discover for myself what is really going on.
• You accept my gratitude by telling me how good it makes you feel to know that you have been helpful.
Are you listening to me, or just nodding your head?
Quentin Steen is a certified mental health first aid instructor for the Mental Health Commission of Canada.
Get your BRAIN right and your MIND will follow!
3 Resources to Improve Your Skills in the Art of Listening
- 10 Steps to Effective Listening
- Active Listening Skills: Definition and Examples
- Active Listening: Hear what People are Really Saying
4 Mental Health Resources to Help You During the Pandemic
- Stronger Minds features videos and quick reads from mental health experts, activities to help you gain resilience, and ask-an-expert videos in response to questions.
- WellCan offers free well-being resources to help Canadians develop coping strategies and build resilience to help deal with uncertainty, mental health, and substance abuse concerns during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Wellness Together Canada: Mental Health and Substance Use Support provides free online resources, tools, apps, and connections to trained volunteers and qualified mental health professionals.
- CLAC is also continuing to make available to all members and their families our employment and family assistance program. If you or your loved ones are struggling, please do not hesitate to reach out for free, confidential help today.