Active Listening

Having learned early on in my hearing loss journey to "actively listen", by 2005 I was a near expert - but only because of necessity!
Having learned early on in my hearing loss journey to “actively listen”, by 2005 I was a near expert – but only because of necessity!

In a recent PSY-215 (Psychology of Relationships) class, I went over some details in regards to communication. We were studying “active listening” and how it can benefit people when communicating.

Communication is more than being able to articulate your ideas and feelings. We have a responsibility to be the best communicators that we can. We owe it to ourselves to learn to write well, speak well, and convey our thoughts AND emotions in a positive way that will be well received. However, part of communication is on the receiving end. After all, if you are talking or writing and no one is there to listen, that isn’t really communication. According to Miller (2011), there are two important tasks as “receiver” in a conversation. “The first is to accurately understand what our partners are trying to say, and the second is to communicate that attention and comprehension to our partners so that they know we care about what they’ve said” (Miller, 2011, p. 170).

We can do this by paraphrasing – repeating in our own words what we heard to give the other the opportunity to correct anything we were mistaken about in listening. As a person with hearing loss, I learned early on how valuable paraphrasing was to communication. It was more than a matter of understanding the true intent of what was being said… at times I wasn’t HEARING all that was being said. Paraphrasing allowed me to – in my own words – repeat what I thought was said. If I misunderstood both words or meaning, the other person was able to correct anything.

Paraphrasing is a great tool if you know someone with a communication disorder or hearing loss too! I would often frustrate family members by saying, “HUH?” after they said something. I later learned to repeat all that I heard and to be more specific about what I didn’t. This allowed them to fill-in-the-blank for me, or to paraphrase what they said so that I might hear more if it was put a different way. Example:

Terry: “I think we should go to The Point tonight because it won’t be crowded. We need to fill your car up with gas first so let’s take your car.

Denise: “I heard we should go to The Point but then I only heard something about my car…”

Terry: “Oh… I said your car needs gas. I noticed the last time I was in it, so let’s swing by the gas station first and fill it up!”

When communicating with a person with hearing loss, words – or even just PIECES of words (prefixes or suffixes) may be lost. Paraphrasing may put what you had intended to say in a different pattern, or using a different choice of words that the person with hearing loss DOES pick up.

Another valuable listening skill is perception checking. Perception checking is when “people assess the accuracy of their inferences about a partner’s feelings by asking the partner for clarification” (Miller, 2011, p. 170). Example:

Daughter: “I can’t believe you said that  — —–  , (wails) I’ll never be able to go there again!”

Me: “I missed what you explained that *I said*, but I can tell you are very upset – perhaps embarrassed. Is that right?”

Using active listening tools allows us to be RESPONSIVE. That can only be a good thing! You don’t have to be tucked away in a quiet nook of the kitchen like the picture above either. Once you become a skilled active listener, you will use these tools automatically when communicating. It can be done with environmental noises competing. Active listening can be done when in a hurry, with only a moment or two to communicate before you rush out the door.

Something Miller fails to mention in his review of active listening is eye contact. Yes, I believe we can practice active listening without eye contact (though maybe not if you have hearing loss). However, I believe to truly engage the other person, to acknowledge that we are listening and working to listen, requires eye contact. This can be done even when we are in a hurry. Trying to get out the door while someone is explaining they’ll need picked up from work? Put the cell phone up as you reach for the door handle, take a deep breath and make eye contact. Listen. Actively. (smile)

Denise Portis

© 2013 Personal Hearing Loss Journal


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