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  • Ann Hollander

Listening: The other half of the conversation


Good communication requires both speaking and listening. Oddly enough, if you make a specific effort to listen, it can open doors. Once "heard," the other person may be more willing to hear your point of view.


Deep listening is more difficult than it sounds. It's not passive. It requires concentration. It also takes humility and empathy. Here are some tips:


Consider the setting

  • Schedule your talk at an unhurried time.

  • Turn off the TV, music, and cell phone.

  • Make sure the seating and room temperature are comfortable.

Observe yourself. Are you

  • distracted by physical needs or strong emotions? If you are hungry, upset, or tired, you won't be able to concentrate on what the other person is saying. Consider talking after a meal or in the morning when you've had a chance to rest.

  • bored? If you "already know what is going to be said," it's probably best to push your internal reset button. Be open to the possibility that things might not be completely as you expect them to be.

  • unable to concentrate? If you find your mind wandering, try mentally repeating their words. It will help you focus and fully take in what the speaker means.

  • preparing your replies? If you find you are concentrating on your response, try listening attentively and then waiting one full second after the speaker finishes before you begin talking. After completely hearing what was said, you can thoughtfully compose your reply.

Show empathy. Often the best way to get something is to give it yourself.

  • Nod and encourage. "Yes," "uh huh," smiles, and open body language cue the speaker that you are interested and paying attention.

  • Ask questions. "Could you tell me more?" or "An example would help me understand better."

  • Check in and repeat back. "I'm understanding that what you'd like most is . . ." or "So, you are feeling frustrated that . . ." Paraphrasing can ease defensiveness in the speaker, making him or her more open to hearing what you have to say.

Having difficulty with family members? As the North Shore and Chicago experts in family caregiving, we at Options for Aging are very familiar with this problem. It happens in many families. Old baggage and current stresses make for difficult communications. Let us help. Give us a call at 847-868-1445.

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