We may think that we are good listeners because we hear what people are saying, but effective listening involves really hearing, comprehending, and using what someone is expressing to us verbally (saying) to be able to benefit from what they are sharing. Just having the sound waves from someone’s speech reach our ears does not mean that we are listening.
Often, we are preoccupied to the point that we can tell that someone is speaking because we hear the conversation but it doesn’t register with us in any meaningful way. We are busy thinking about what we want to express or share with them, a humorous anecdote that we want to mention, or a question we want to pose. All the while, we are missing what they are saying to us.
We know that our eyes are important for learning about the client’s dwelling space and determining what might be needed to address their concerns from what we see and observe. However, that only gives us part of the picture. We need to ask questions to learn if our observations are correct, how our clients think the conditions that we notice are inhibiting their use of the space, physical conditions they have that might limit how they use their space, safety concerns they have, and general updates in terms of design, color, or finishes they have been considering.
To supplement and complement what we are witnessing and observing, we must ask questions – to confirm what we might be seeing and to receive explanations or input about what the client wants or needs. It does us no good to ask these questions if we aren’t prepared to actively listen to the responses and factor them into our assessment.
Often, one response that the client offers will suggest another question – for clarification or to ask for a preference when more than one solution or approach is reasonable to handle their concerns.
We need to listen to what is being volunteered by our clients because they think this is important for us to know or they are sharing information about what they need, what they already have considered, or what they may not want in terms of colors or design.
When we find out what’s important to them – by listening to what they are telling us without being prompted in response to specific and direct questions we are asking – we can share with them how we intend to meet their needs or expectations.
We need to remember that effective listening requires participation. It’s not like “listening” to music while we are driving or cleaning out the garage. We may even sing along to songs that we recognize, but mostly the music is on in the background. We don’t specifically focus on it.
Music, ballgames, or talk radio are forms of entertainment so we don’t particularly focus or pay specific attention to what is being said. We might be thinking of dozens of additional items while we are are listening, thinking of nothing specific, or essentially tuning it out as we try to focus on the planning or physical work we are doing.
With our clients, we honor and respect them when we listen to what they are telling us. We show that we are interested in helping them and that we value what they are telling us.