Opinion: Listening gets harder and harder as we get older – here’s how to capture more of what others are saying

Let’s face it: you are not the biggest listener.

You rarely remember what other people say. You get bored easily if you don’t speak. You interrupt early and often in the conversation.

Sloppy listening habits can plague anyone at any age. But the elderly are particularly prone to inattention for a number of reasons.

“Listening takes energy and the ability to concentrate,” said Scott Williams, professor of management at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio. “So if you are bothered by shooting pains or often exhausted, you may have less ability to listen.”

Hearing loss makes it worse. Concerned that you only capture bits of spoken words, you can adapt by pretending to follow while missing huge chunks of conversation.

But even if you are free from all physical barriers and have what Williams calls the “fitness threshold” necessary to listen well, other barriers can arise. If you’ve spent your professional life being subjected to coworkers who have driven you crazy with their rambling inanities, dogmatic assertions, and imprecise or offensive language, it’s tempting to give up and retreat to your own world.

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“Retirees can put less effort into listening, thinking, ‘I don’t have to do this anymore,’” said Williams.

Power dynamics also play a role. If you have enjoyed high status during your professional career, you might show less interest in people of lower status and deem your comments more important than anything they have to share.

Overcoming these and other obstacles starts with a basic belief: you must value what others say.

If you are too independent or just indifferent to the speaker, you disconnect. Incuriosity kills listening skills.

As long as you are willing and willing to learn from others, you are ready to listen better. Paying attention comes naturally when you are attracted to someone.

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But your mind can still wander during an otherwise stimulating conversation. Miss a single strand of conversation and you risk falling behind and losing track of the story you are hearing.

When that happens, speak up.

“Recognize when you’re not listening well and ask for a break,” Williams said. “You have to own it. Say, “I’m sorry. I have not slept well. Could you please repeat?'”

Asking a speakerphone to slow down or repeat something you missed often works to your advantage. It signals your intention to listen and brings you closer accordingly.

The best listeners follow a series of steps to extract the most revealing comments from others, says Maurice Schweitzer, a professor at the Wharton School in Philadelphia.

First, ask open-ended questions. Instead of monopolizing the spotlight by giving lectures or launching into long anecdotes, seek to discover something – a fact, an opinion, an experience – from others.

So shut up. Some people will take at least three seconds to respond. Wait patiently. Resist the urge to jump in and fill the silence.

Once they have finished answering your question, you have a choice: shift your attention towards you or continue to let them steer the conversation in the direction they want.

As you can guess, listening experts recommend the latter option.

“Encourage them to keep talking by nodding their heads, saying ‘aha’ or using other words. [verbal or nonverbal cues]”Said Schweitzer, co-author of“ Friend and Foe ”.

Finally, summarize what you heard to confirm correctness and expand your knowledge if you wish. It strengthens your resolve to keep learning and give the speaker multiple opportunities to open up even more.


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About Daniel Lange

Daniel Lange

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