Active listening benefits all generations
There was a poster hanging in my eighth-grade health classroom that I can still visualize. It read in a brightly colored font, “‘Listen’ and ‘silent’ are spelled with the same letters.”
That poster echoed the message that we have been taught from an early age but often ignore: that merely hearing, or the act of perceiving sound by the ear, doesn’t cut it.
Only by actually listening, or concentrating on another’s words and internalizing their meaning, can we partake in an effective conversation and show respect to our peers — and this goes for individuals of any age.
Can you recall a time that you shared a personal story with a friend and felt a sense of validation as they hung on your every word and eagerly asked follow-up questions regarding your tale? If so, then you are among the many who appreciate active listening.
Five stages of listening
This communication technique is composed of five stages: receiving a message, understanding it, evaluating it, remembering it and responding to it.
This last stage of responding is of particular importance: by providing feedback or asking relevant questions, the listener reveals that they have been paying attention to the speaker, sending the underlying message that they care. Knowing that someone else cares feels good.
Teenagers and older adults may both experience a lack of respect from others during their particular stage of life. So both age groups can feel as if they are not being heard.
Many people erroneously assume that members of these generations are unable to make their own decisions. As a result, teens and older adults both may find their opinions ignored or disregarded by others.
On the flip side, teens may choose not to listen to others, especially to their parents, as a way to declare independence or assert power.
Older adults, too, crave their own independence, and after years of being an authority figure, may be hesitant to listen to the younger folks who are now trying to tell them what is best.
So, whatever one’s age, it helps to try to be an effective listener — even if you may not agree with the views of the person speaking.
Become a better listener
How can we become better listeners? First off, when having a conversation, be sure to make eye contact with the speaker.
Next, keep an open mind. If you jump to conclusions about what the speaker is saying, it may compromise your effectiveness as an unbiased listener.
Try not to be a “sentence-grabber,” one who finishes people’s sentences. It’s important to let the speaker finish their thoughts and not assume a specific conclusion to their sentence — that’s talking, not listening.
To maintain focus on what the person is saying, try to picture the information being communicated, and remember key words and phrases. This will enable you to take more from the conversation and follow up with relevant questions.
However, don’t take this advice too far and spend the duration of your companion’s story planning what to say next. The speaker may have responded to the question you were planning to ask even as you were thinking about it!
A few final tips include: trying to put yourself in the speaker’s shoes, nodding to indicate that you are actively processing what they are saying, avoiding interruptions and mirroring.
This last tip refers to replicating on your own face the emotions the speaker is conveying. For example, you may appear stressed as the person with whom you are talking expresses anxiety about an upcoming deadline or project.
For an intergenerational outing: You and your younger buddy can work together to improve your listening IQ and encourage others to actively listen as well.
A great way to practice this is to make listening into a game: one of you can tell a story, and the other must see how much detail they can remember.
By working to develop your listening abilities, you will likely find that people find you more trustworthy and loyal. After all, the best type of person to confide in is one who you know will listen.
Alexis Bentz is an 11th grade student at Thomas Wootton High School in Rockville, Md.