Listening is far more than the act of doing it. It’s not like eating a cookie, putting on our shoes, cutting the grass, taking the kids to school, or walking the dog. Those are short-term efforts, or perhaps a little longer, that are begun and completed without much concentration on what is happening at the time. We have done it often and are accustomed to what we are doing.
On the other hand, listening has several parts. First, there is hearing the words that are spoken. This sounds relatively easy, but think of how many times we thought we heard someone say something that turned out not to be the case. Think of how many words sound similar but have very different meanings – sometimes only discernable by the surrounding context. How many times have we sung along to a popular song we heard playing only to discover later that we had some of the words or phrases incorrect? They fit the music but clearly (after we learned the truth) were not right.
After we physically hear the words, we begin processing them. Depending on other noises that might be present to block or interfere with how well we heard the transmission from the other person, we determine what was said. That is, if we were paying attention enough to grasp the entire message and not just a few words of it.
Why the other person said something to us is important as well. DId they voluntarily offer an important detail about what they want or need for us to do in their home to make their lives easier or more convenient? Were they responding to a specific question we asked them about their needs or the preferences as we are attempting to learn more about how we can serve them? Are they sharing vital details about the project that will culminate in an agreement for us to render services for them? Was it a conversation directed at someone else in the room – a caregiver, spouse, family member, adviser, medical professional, or another of our team members – and we simply were allowed to hear it because we were close enough to the person speaking?
We have to be deliberate in hearing what was said to grasp the entire message and process it in light of the context, whether a specific question was asked, a light comment or humorous incident was being recounted, or something was being offered by the client or a strategic partner that would help the overall effort of our design and implementation. It’s not just the client who may be communicating to us with the spoken word but the members of our team, our employees, and special consultants we are using just for this particular project.
So much is available to us when someone speaks. We just need to concentrate on getting the entire message because we want to use what they say to help them, to understand their needs better, or to show that we value their input. Effective listening – and not just hearing – takes effort and practice. We have to make ourselves focus on the conversation if we want to use what is being said, and we really don’t want to miss anything. Not everything said may be useful information, but we will never be able to determine that if we don’t first hear all of it and process it. Then we can decide what matters to the solution we are creating and what might just be considered light comments or non-essential observations offered.