Let the Listening Begin

When I’m part of  a group, or by myself for that matter, and presumably listening to someone speak, I’ll stare at my nails, gaze out a window, or maybe, just quietly fidget. Although I believe I am listening, my mind is elsewhere. I’ve noticed, though, that I’m not the only one. And I’ve wondered, why is it so hard to listen when others are talking?

That question took root in my mind and led to an unhappy admission on my part. It was clear. I had developed a bad case of subnormal listening and it appeared to be getting worse. I was horrified since I considered listening to be one of my finer traits.

I was determined to change. I would learn to listen, and to listen well.

In order to do that, I had to break the tendency to put my personal agenda first. I also had to stop interrupting, to avoid automatically contradicting another’s emotions, and to immediately cease volunteering advice not asked for. Bad moves all.

To my surprise, however, the desire to improve my listening behavior demanded more effort than I originally thought, particularly when brought into a discussion that demanded quick brainwork.

My daughter was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was twenty-five. Our relationship had always been loving and open. We talked freely about most issues and I am grateful for that. But poor listening habits blocked some of my understanding of what was important to her.    

For example, when my daughter worried about her young son’s possible reactions to her illness, I said, quickly, in an attempt to override her anxiety – and mine – “Oh, no, honey. He’s just fine.” I had ignored the possibility that she might want to talk about ways to deal with her son’s recent unruly behavior.

Or, when I interrupted my daughter in the middle of a particularly difficult explanation of her breast cancer. I wanted to save her from elaborating on a painful topic. I did not stop to think that she might want to hear her own words aloud to better reflect on them before talking again with her oncologist.

Or, when my daughter complained about her loss of hair, and I said, “You do wonderful things with your head scarves. You look great.” That was my attempt to lighten her mood, but in fact, I trivialized her discontent.

I’m trying. Not only did I want to improve communications with my daughter, but to enhance as well, my communicating skills with my husband, my family, and my friends. I do hope they recognized the change!

So. What have I learned? I have learned to wait until I grasp the content of the speaker’s message before responding. I have learned not to be a lazy listener but, instead, to be attentive. I have learned, once more, to be mindful of the speaker’s nonverbal gestures, and to nod my head or smile or gesture in return; it is another way to listen.

I am learning. I am aware. I am listening.


I was invited to write the above  post, LET THE LISTENING BEGIN,  for an informative and thoughtful website, Living Beyond Breast Cancer, www.lbbc.org .  LBBC is a national education and support organization for those with breast cancer, their families, and their friends. Click on the link and take a look. My essay was published to the LBBC site on March 12, 2010.   I hope you find it interesting.

Also, go here for some quick tips on good listening habits.

Editor: Edwin C. Goldstein