March is “International Listening Month” and calls attention to this important aspect of communication. 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 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 – similar to hearing music in the background or having it on but not really paying attention to it or actually being able to tell what song is playing. Instead, we are busy thinking about what we want to express or share with them next, 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 because we only are thinking about our end of the conversation.
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 affecting their use of the 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 can’t ask that additional question if we aren’t actually hearing the response initially.
We need to listen to what is being volunteered by our clients also 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, design, or assistance.
When we find out what’s important to them – by listening to what they are voluntarily sharing with us or 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 might miss this opportunity if we aren’t attuned to what they are saying.
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.
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.