Be all ears

Improve your life by listening better

By Barbara Pierce

We tend to think of communication as being about expressing ourselves, but that’s really only half of it — the smaller half. It’s even more important to know how to listen.

Any of the relationships we’re in — with our partner, boss, friends or family — benefit from a dynamic that favors listening.


Listening doesn’t come to us naturally, and most of us are probably not as good at it as we like to think we are. Most people say their partners, parents, children, friends and colleagues don’t really listen to them, which means that we’re probably all guilty of zoning out some of the time.

We can become better listeners. Focusing more effectively on what people say can have far-reaching effects on your relationships.

Try these techniques:

— Zero in on the conversation: Focus on the conversation. That means stop thinking about what you’re going to say as soon as he or she stops talking, quit subtly checking your emails, or thinking about what you’re going to eat for lunch.

— Face toward someone when they’re talking and maintain eye contact.

People talk at about 150 words per minute, but we can listen effectively to 450 words per minute. That’s why we can daydream while hearing about our partner’s lousy day and still process what was said. But we won’t be an effective listener.

Most of us can’t do more than one thing that requires thought at the same time; we can’t do either of them well if we’re trying to do two or more at the same time.

— Show that you’re listening: That doesn’t necessarily mean agreeing all the time, but making it clear that you’ve understood them or that you’re trying to understand them.

A great way to demonstrate that you’re listening is to rephrase and repeat a point the speaker has made, saying things like, “It sounds like you’re saying …” or “And that has made you feel …”

Sentences like, “That must make you feel …” or “It makes sense that, given what happened, you would feel like that” or “I can imagine that would be really hard” can be really useful in showing you’re not only listening, but putting yourself in their shoes.

— Listen without fixing: One common mistake people make in communication is that they’re too quick to try to solve the other person’s problem instead of simply listening to them.

Just listen!

Most people are not looking for a critique of their situation or an analysis of their options; they just want someone to empathize — to see things from their perspective. When someone opens up to you, avoid offering advice unless they ask for it. In most cases, he or she is just looking for someone to listen and understand. Be the person who listens to understand.

— Ask follow-up questions: Good listeners do more than sit silently; they ask follow-up questions. Don’t say, “I know what you’re saying.” That closes off the conversation when the other person may want to say more. Instead, ask an open-ended question that invites them to say more. Like, “What happened then?”

— Be aware of hearing loss: Sometimes a partner, friend or colleague stops being a good listener due to age-related hearing loss. “The longer we live, the more likely we are to experience age-related hearing loss,” said Robert Bishton, a hearing specialist at Action Ear Hearing of New Hartford.

Ensure the person you are speaking with does not have hearing loss, as about 30 percent of people over 60 and nearly half of those over 70 experience hearing loss.

“Don’t accept hearing loss!” stressed Bishton. “If you’re losing your hearing, get it diagnosed and treated. Get treated and live life to the fullest.”

People tend to stop doing things when they can’t hear. They love playing bridge, but stop because they can’t hear. Or bingo. They become socially isolated.

As hearing can especially be a challenge in a large group setting, Bishton is excited about his new business that features induction hearing loops.

The hearing loop makes a world of difference for people with hearing loss. Hearing aides do little to help people hear in group settings. But by sending a clear sound to the hearing aide of the user without any background noise, hearing loops make it possible for those with hearing aides to hear in a group setting.

“It works fabulously,” said Bishton. “You can sit anywhere in the room and hear. People with normal hearing won’t notice anything different. People with hearing loss and no hearing aid can still use the hearing loop system through small ear buds.

“It’s been around Europe since the 1980s and is just getting popular in the states.”

To contact Bishton or for more information on hearing loops, call 315-941-0238 or see or Upstate Hearing Loops on Facebook.