Listening Ted talk

I recently heard a TED talk on “listening.” The speaker said that we spend so much time teaching our children to read, write, and speak, but seldom work on the equally-important skill of listening. I was struck by this talk, especially, because I come from a family of talkers, storytellers, people who entertain with words. But how are we Hobarts at listening?
After becoming blind, I heard my aunt say to my mother, “Sally has grown so quiet.”
Now in my family you could still chatter away more than anyone else in the room and still be considered quiet. That’s how much we talk.
But I also know that blindness made it imperative for me to use my ears. I call them my “lifeline” to others, to the world. Listening not only helps me function, it restores and uplifts me. So by no fault of my own, blindness made me a better listener.
But I’m so often struck by how much I need to grow as a listener. In graduate school I became familiar with the “Human development Program.” This was a concept that was geared to school students and various other organizations to help young people grow in self-awareness, self-confidence, and social interaction.
To do this, young people sat in a “magic circle” and were asked to discuss certain topics, such as favorite place.
The leader would go around the circle, asking one person to speak. Then the group had to reflect and repeat what he or she had said. Only then would the leader move to the next person for him or her to share.
When I co-taught writing at a computer center, my friend and I used this same method. First the group members had to repeat what the person had read of his own writing. “Summarize what he said,” we told the group. Only then could the group give compliments and suggestions.
Even though I’m no saint, I am still amazed by how often in social groups and even in working groups, people hardly listen. They essentially mark time until they can speak. They perform a kind of parallel talking.
In the TED talk, the speaker addressed this phenomenon of parallel talk. He suggested that we do three things to improve listening skills:
1. Be silent simply for a few minutes. In fact, have everyone in the group or class keep silent.
2. Run a machine like an electric mixer for the constant, irritating noise and ask the members to listen for something beyond the mixer’s noise. Then go outside and listen to the bird songs. Try to distinguish various trills and tweets, different sounds among the birds.
3R.A.S.A. By this acronym, the speaker said for all of us to follow this formula: Receive, Appreciate by saying “uh-huh,” or “yes,” or “really,” etc. Then Summarize what you’ve heard. Finally, Ask questions.
What a novel idea—ask questions. Have you noticed people in your social circles or work groups who never ever ask questions They only inform.
Not that I’m bitter! Not that I’m innocent! Or unhypocritical.
We all need to improve our listening skills.

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About Sally Hobart Alexander

Blinded at the age of twenty-six, I left California and elementary school teaching for life in Pittsburgh, Pa. There, I met my husband, got a Masters' degree in social work, had two kids, now 35 and 32, and became a writer. Surprisingly, the writing career led me full-circle to teaching, and I teach in Chatham University's M.F.A. program and lead two writing critique groups. Always, since the age of 26, I have traveled, not in the stereotypic darkness attributed to blindness, but a mist. My blog then, "traveling through the mist" will deal with issues in my culturally different life as a blind writer, teacher, speaker, and human being.
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