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Generous Listening

May 1, 2018 7:47 pm Published by Leave your thoughts

My absolute favorite interviewer is Krista Tippett, the Peabody Award-winning host of the radio program On Being, and the New York Times best-selling author of Becoming Wise. I love to listen to her interviews, which delve into the mysteries of human existance, because she listens so openly and respectfully.

Ms. Tippett says that listening is an everyday social art, but it is one we have neglected and need to learn anew. Listening is not being quiet and biding our time till it is our turn to speak. Nor is it a ping pong game of getting our shot in. To have true conversations we may need to change some habits that are so ingrained that they seem like the only possible way to communicate. We’ve all been taught to advocate for our interests. That is right for some situations, but it also may get in the way of truly caring exchanges.

Ms. Tippett introduces us to the language of Rachel Naomi Remen, a physician who trains young doctors to practice “generous listening.” Generous listening is powered by curiosity. It involves a willingness to be surprised, to let go of assumptions and take in ambiguity. It asks us to get out of our own heads (what am I going to say next?), open our hearts, and let the other person express their truth.

So, what does “generous listening” have to do with my readers with hearing loss? Nothing, and everything. I believe that active, deep, quiet and unhurried listening is important for each of us, regardless of hearing ability. Taking our time allows us to let in another’s perspective. We have the opportunity to hear something new.

For those whose hearing is imperfect, this also gives time for the signal to “percolate” so that the brain can integrate the sounds, and connect the dots when the signal is less than complete. Remember that the ear – and the hearing aid – catch the sound, but only the brain can interpret it, and this takes time.

Every audiologist offers advice about strategies that help hear in challenging situations. You know, reduce background sound, look at the speaker, be reasonably close, and more. These are good techniques, and along with amplification, they are useful. But I believe that empathetic generous listening takes our usual strategies to another level of communication, both for the hearing impaired, and the normal hearing listener.

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