Listen to this…

by Craig Nudelman

Gabi’s father, Paul Sulcas, passed away on 10 September.

Paul was ill for many years, but it was still a shock when he left us. Although his physical body is no longer here, his whole family continues his legacy by perpetuating some of the great things he did during his life.

Paul always struck me as a man who listened to people’s stories. This has been verified by so many individuals following his passing, who say that he was always willing to listen to what they said so he could assist them in various ways. This important skill, to listen to someone, is something that we can all learn from.

We don’t always listen to people. We often confuse listening with hearing. Hearing is the physiological act of hearing sounds, whether it comes from another person, a car, or the swaying of trees. It is the ability to passively process soundwaves – an ability that I am always grateful to have. It does not require attention but is rather an involuntary reaction to the environment around us.
Listening is a different technique altogether. It combines the processing of raw sound data from external sources and, through active listening and analysis, interpreting what we are hearing. Listening transforms the passive and continuous sounds we receive into something new and unique. It is an amazing psychological gift that we, as humans, are afforded.

There are two types of listening – active and passive. To actively listen to someone or something, a person needs to be curious and motivated, as well as have a purpose for doing so. Above all, it takes effort. As it relates to relationships, this type of listening is part of healthy communication between colleagues, peers, friends, family members, and romantic partners.

An active listener will try to connect to the person and understand what they are saying to have a meaningful conversation. We try to actively listen when we have a problem, want to share an experience, or just want to create a new connection. When we actively listen, we have to be interested in what the other person is saying. Not only that, but an active listener will engage and be open to the other person’s thoughts or feelings and contribute positively to the conversation.

Passive listening is the exact opposite. A passive listener will be unreceptive, disconnected, and inattentive to the conversation. They won’t have any desire to contribute positively to the conversation, as their opinions are already formed, and won’t work to come up with a solution. Passive listening demonstrates a lack of empathy and understanding of the other – something which has plagued humanity since we began to communicate with each other.

Human beings need to be listened to – it is key to our mental health. If we cannot voice our feelings or opinions to important individuals in our lives, we feel as though we have no voice and don’t really matter. If, for example, I expressed a difference of opinion to a friend and was summarily dismissed without any constructive engagement, I would feel hurt and upset. This would show that my viewpoint did not matter and that I don’t really need to be part of the conversation. This is bad for anyone’s mental health and can strain many relationships.

By being an active listener, you can show that the other individual matters, building relationships and beginning friendships. Not only that, but you can learn from others. I consider myself to be an active listener (when my ADD allows me to be one) and I have gained so much insight and knowledge from people who have crossed my path. Active listening not only allows us to share stories and pass on ideas to others, but we can also resolve conflicts between others and ourselves.

Today more than ever, it seems as though active listening is becoming a rare skill. We live in echo chambers in our social media caves, where we don’t have to engage with each other to form social bonds. Instead, we listen to those who spout false information and ideas which threaten to break the very delicate framework of society. From Israel-Palestine to vaccines, we have stopped listening to each other’s ideas and ideals, and no longer ask questions which will better us. So… here are some tips to become a better listener.

Dr Kristen Fuller in Psychology Today gives the following advice:

Ask good questions. My father-in-law used to say, “you are interesting if you are interested”. Instead of simply responding “OK” and “ya” when someone is sharing information with you, ask open-ended questions so that the person can elaborate on what they’re saying. Use the 5 Ws and H (what, when, where, why, who, and how). This shows that you want to learn more.

Wait to speak. One thing that I have heard so often of my father-in-law was that he never interrupted others and always waited for them to finish speaking. This doesn’t come naturally. As humans, we want to speak and hear our own voices. But to be an active listener we have to pay attention to verbal cues, and take a moment to share a thought with others. Sometimes, we don’t have to say anything at all.

The last piece of advice is the most difficult — at least for me. You have to stay focussed on the other person’s words and the conversation that you’re having. By being present in the moment, you are showing you care about what the other person is saying. So, if you have hyper-sensitivity or ADD, just try your best!

Paul was an amazing man who did so much in his life to help others. But the one thing that always sticks out to me when other people speak about him is that he listened. He was considerate of other people’s thoughts and feelings, and through active listening he always made sure that they were seen and heard. I hope that I can emulate these behaviours in my own interactions going forward.

• Published in the PDF edition of the October 2021 issue – Click here to get it.

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