Friday, October 19, 2012

The Etiquette of Listening

When someone is talking to us, we should make an effort to listen to what he or she is saying. It’s only polite. Whenever we have something to say, we certainly want people to listen; otherwise why bother?

The art of listening can be complicated even though it may seem to only require one’s ears and attentive mind. There are many advantages to mastering this skill. For one thing, what others say can reveal, inform and educate us about news, opinions, and facts. Sometimes what is being said is important and we want to hear every word. Many times it can be boring or useless information. But out of politeness and good manners, we must try our hardest to pay attention.

Large gatherings can present challenges to listening. The noise levels can reach a fever pitch making it practically impossible to hear another person speaking. This puts listening at a great disadvantage. Large groups tend to evolve into many small groups rather quickly helping us to be able to focus on those near at hand. In these situations, speak clearly and look directly at the person to whom you are speaking. This helps you gauge levels of comprehension and interest. When listening, look at the person’s lips a well as eyes. I am amazed how well so many people can lip read when pressed.

Avoid looking over the shoulder of someone who is speaking to you. Distractions of others entering the room are inevitable, but averting one’s eyes from the speaker to catch a glimpse of something or someone who may be more interesting is simply rude. We all know what it feels like to suddenly be left speaking to someone who has completely disengaged from the conversation. We don’t like being ignored or displaced, so why do it to others?

Lectures can be particularly difficult to hold one’s attention for too long unless the subject is gripping or the speaker is captivating. If our attention wanders off in a daydream, it might be just when some brilliant concept is clearly explained, falling on deaf ears. Before going to a talk, especially in the evening after dinner when falling asleep is easy, I make sure I have something to write on or record so I can take a few notes. When paying close enough attention to take notes, missing key points is less likely. Great information, often unrelated to the main topic, emerges almost as a bonus!

Remembering what people have said when one is distracted is practically impossible. Although we can actually hear more than one conversation at a time, we really only listen to one at a time, missing out on the others. This can happen with peoples’ names, important dates, or major talking points. When this happens, refocus on one conversation and let go of other distractions. In casual conversations this is less critical than it is in a business setting. However, when vital information slips one’s mind, the best way to handle the situation is to ask for it to be repeated. Being honest with colleagues instills trust. We all become distracted from time to time. 

People come to us in times of need, when there may be some acute stress in their lives. Often times, they may want an opportunity to vent or express their emotions. Sometimes they are looking for answers or guidance. By listening to them carefully, we can discern what they are really looking for and act accordingly.

Interacting socially occurs in one’s business life as well as one’s personal life. Navigating social mores can be daunting to anyone slightly shy. Talking about one’s own life can be one manner of coping; however, good manners and etiquette are about putting others first. Resist speaking only about yourself and your experiences, and ask questions of others about their lives and opinions. 

A good rule of thumb is to notice when we are talking about ourselves or when we become too intense about any subject. Try shifting the emphasis over to what is interesting to the other person, which gives you a chance to make sure they are as interested in the matter at hand as you are. 

Don’t repeat what someone has just said as a way of indicating you understood what was spoken. This interrupts the person speaking. Occasionally this may be appropriate, but is not a good practice. Many of us develop speech patterns, and listening patterns, too! Repeating conversations is akin to interrupting. By carefully listening to what someone is saying we not only demonstrate respect, we might learn something, too!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

And Like a Good Neighbour……

We all live in a community of one kind or another. It’s what we do as humans. Connecting with other people is essential to our physical, mental and emotional health.

As a small child, I remember riding my bicycle or skateboard around my neighborhood without realizing how much I was actually observing. Over time, subconsciously I knew the routines of dozens of households. I knew when they mowed their lawns, when and where they walked their dogs, entertained friends and family, were away on vacation, etc. Taking mental note of when everything is ‘right with the world’, gives us a sense of safety and security. Over time, we notice what is normal, and more importantly when something isn’t quite right.

When one is a child, life is simpler in many ways. As we grow up, our lives take on different meanings and responsibilities. We don’t have the same time to cruise the ‘hood as we once did and see who was up to what. However, to maintain our sense of safety and security, we need to reconsider just how important ‘having a snoop’ can be.

There are obvious signs that things are different when we notice newspapers piling up outside a neighbor’s front door. We might see long grass growing where a perfectly manicured lawn once covered someone’s front lawn. The usual routine is out of sync. Some neighbors are more conscious of these differences and become concerned.

Depending on the size and demographics of a neighborhood determines just how involved people become in one another’s lives. In communities where there is a high concentration of children, many parents form associations where shared active patrols help ensure safety. Such safety comprises the basic common sense observations of loitering, vandalism, and anything else that is out of the ordinary. When something appears out of place, the authorities should be summoned. After the facts are assessed and dealt with appropriately,, necessary actions are taken to return things to normal. There are many successful models used to protect children from kidnapping, bullying, and many other dangers.

In communities populated by senior citizens, similar measures are usually put into place from the start. Transportation and health issues, proper nutrition and hygiene, and depression and loneliness might be the everyday battles neighbors may encounter. For those of us who live in communities like this, keeping an eye out for one another is de rigueur, or at least it should be. By the time we have reached our golden years, we have had experiences that allow us to act in a supportive way.

Safety is paramount. If one follows the guideline of strengthening the weakest link first, one must then have one’s priorities in order. Sadly today, this is not happening, at least it is not happening enough. If it were, we would not be sending one in six children to bed hungry. We would not be living in a world where 60% of men don’t know it’s against the law to hit someone, especially one’s spouse, domestic partner, child, or pet. We would not be facing such issues as suicide prevention, bullying, domestic violence and abject poverty.

Since there is clearly a different set of priorities at play at the government level, the responsibility lies within each of us to protect and improve our communities, relying where we can on municipal assistance. Smaller civic groups do form and do accomplish much good. And we can do more.

Take the time to explain to children what living in community is all about. They must learn to be aware of how they interact with others and the impact such interactions have. We need to understand the difference between being nosy and being responsible. Helping neighbors who are in need is part of our civic duty. Following the Golden Rule leads to healthier stronger neighborhoods and communities.