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Are you listening?

More importantly, are you listening to what’s not being said?

When seeking advice or feedback, it’s nice to be told what you’re doing well. The judges on Masterchef have nailed what it takes to give supportive feedback with Garry Mehigan’s wide smile as he says, “What I love about this dish is…”

But what about what isn’t said? How can you make amends, seek to improve or even know that you haven’t met the mark unless you’re told?

Are you listening?

Really listening?

Because sometimes it’s easy to overlook what hasn’t been shared, meaning you are none the wiser that you haven’t been told the whole story. Remembering to look, listen and ask matters because sometimes people don’t wish to hurt your feelings or wish to protect you, or their feeling may be so hurt their response is to back off entirely and stay silent.

Failing to listen is a missed opportunity

It can be the quieter voice that is hiding their real feelings.

It can be the quietest voice that has the greatest insight or solution to a problem.

When I was expecting the birth of our first child I hired a locum for three months so I could take some time off.  After the first week or two, I asked one of my medical colleagues how things were going at work and I was reassured everything was fine. After a month I asked again and was again advised all was well. Except something told me it wasn’t. I dug a bit deeper and asked some of the other staff and eventually the truth came out.

The locum was a total disaster. Not only was she persistently turning up late, but she was also rude to the patients and horrid to the staff. She was effectively destroying my practice!

So the locum was fired and my maternity leave abruptly cut short. I still shudder to think about what might have eventuated if I hadn’t trusted my instinct that I wasn’t being told everything.

What can you do to improve your hearing?

Practice active listening

  • Ask questions, lots of questions and zip your lip while listening.
  • Give the person your undivided attention. It may seem obvious but choose to switch off your mobile phone, shut down the computer and give good eye contact.
  • Show them you’re listening, by nodding or paraphrasing what they have said.
  • Show them you care about what they are sharing. Respect is a two-way street and inspires confidence and trust.
  • Be prepared to hear some truths that may make you feel uncomfortable. One of the biggest reasons we don’t listen is that the truth can hurt, so we seek to avoid the pain.
  • Avoid judgement. We all have different perspectives.
  • Assume nothing and remain curious to learn.
  • Be comfortable in the presence of silence and resist the temptation to fill the space.

Finally, if you have a spare 8 minutes this TED talk by Julian Treasure is a treasure trove (pardon the pun!) of what it takes to be a better listener, to communicate more effectively and enhance understanding.


Dr Jenny Brockis

Dr Jenny Brockis is a medical practitioner and internationally board-certified lifestyle medicine physician, workplace health and wellbeing consultant, podcaster, keynote speaker and best-selling author. Her new book 'Thriving Mind: How to Cultivate a Good Life' (Wiley) is available online and at all good bookstores.

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