The Art of Listening

Its been said in one way or another that the best way to learn is to keep your mind open and your mouth shut. It intrigues me that too many people have not mastered the art of listening. We are often so busy thinking of the next thing we are going to say that we totally miss whole sections of the conversation. We are so busy looking at the visuals in our world, that we are unaware of the audibles, and not just the subtle ones. The art of listening is based on the skill of paying attention.

Call it skill, or call it art, but the one thing it is not is a gift.

As a blind person, Im credited with a keen sense of hearing, much better than that of sighted people. Not true. ` as I age, I am noticing a decrease in my auditory acuity. For instance, when I am in a crowded and noisy restaurant, and someone is trying to talk to me, while hundreds of others are also shouting to each other, I have difficulty hearing what was said to me. Because I cant read lips, as so many sighted people do without realizing it, dining in these restaurants is not a pleasant experience. Im realizing that my hearing is becoming 1 dimensional. I cant hear the voice of the person across from me, because it is blended into the wall of noise behind her. Having to shout to one another over your dinner seems to be trendy and chique. Restaurants these days are designed to enhance that feature. Some of the noise factor is created by the servers themselves. Recently at 2 different restaurants, The servers each greeted our table with what parents call their outside voices. In each case, the server might have been addressing a table across the room, instead of the 4 people within 4 feet of her. Did she think we were deaf? Even when we responded to her with normal inside voices, she continued to shout. Maybe she was deaf? No, I think she wasnt listening, or more accurately, paying attention.

We all know how annoying it is to encounter someone shouting into her cell phone. What is doubly annoying to me is being on the other end of that call, trying to get a word in edgewise. Some of the problem is the slight delay in delivering the audio to the other persons cell phone, but the trouble is really with the caller who doesnt take a breath or pause until after she has delivered her little speech, even if its a question. I used to try to interrupt with my answer or comment, but she doesnt hear. Ive since saved myself the frustration and now wait until she has given me the long list of multiple choice answers. For instance, instead of where would you like to go for dinner? its Where would you like to go for dinner? Would you like Mexican or Chinese or maybe Italian. Ive heard of a new place on Main Street. But maybe youd just like to get a burger. Hey! Stop! I thought this was a dialog. Even though this might sound like generalizing, Ive noticed that most blind people, as a rule, do not do that. We are more in tune with subtle audible cues, like the intake of breath when the other person is about to say something. This is not a special gift. Its just paying attention. And BTW, as any toastmaster will tell you, theres nothing wrong with a pause now and then. It gives your listener a chance to reflect on what youve said or to respond. And youd be surprised at what you will learn when youre not trying to demonstrate how much you know about a subject, prove your point with 1 example after another, or just to fill the air with the sound of your own voice. Learn to listen, and listen to learn.

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