Let the Listening Begin

This is a guest entry written by Suzann Goldstein:

When I’m in a group, or by myself for that matter, and supposedly listening to someone speak, I might stare at my nails, gaze out a window, or maybe, just quietly fidget. Although I believe I am listening, my mind is elsewhere. I’ve noticed, though, that I’m not the only one. And I’ve wondered, why is it so hard to listen when others are talking?

That question took root in my mind and led to an unhappy admission on my part. It was clear. I had developed a bad case of subnormal listening and it appeared to be getting worse. I was horrified since I considered listening to be one of my finer traits.

So I determined to change. I would learn to listen, and to listen well.

In order to do that, I had to break the tendency to put my personal agenda first. I also had to stop interrupting, to avoid automatically contradicting another’s emotions, and to immediately cease volunteering advice not asked for. Bad moves all.

To my surprise, however, the desire to improve my listening behavior demanded more effort than I originally thought, particularly when brought into a discussion that demanded quick brainwork.

My daughter was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was twenty-five. Our relationship had always been loving and open. We talked freely about most issues and I am grateful for that. But poor listening habits blocked some of my understanding of what was important to her.    

For example, when my daughter worried about her young son’s possible reactions to her illness, I said, quickly, in an attempt to override her anxiety – and mine – “Oh, no, honey. He’s just fine.” I had ignored the possibility that she might want to talk about ways to deal with her son’s recent unruly behavior.

Or, when I interrupted my daughter in the middle of a particularly difficult explanation of her breast cancer. I wanted to save her from elaborating on a painful topic. I did not stop to think that she might want to hear her own words aloud to better reflect on them before talking again with her oncologist.

Or, when my daughter complained about her loss of hair, and I said “You do wonderful things with your head scarves. You look great.” That was my attempt to lighten her mood, but in fact, I trivialized her discontent.

I’m trying. Not only did I want to improve communications with my daughter, but to enhance as well, my communicating skills with my husband, my family, and my friends. I do hope they recognize the change!

So. What have I learned? I have learned to wait until I grasp the content of the speaker’s message before responding. I have learned not to be a lazy listener but, instead, to be attentive. I have learned, once more, to be mindful of the speaker’s nonverbal gestures, and to nod my head or smile or gesture in return; it is another way to listen.

I am learning. I am aware. I am listening.

Go here for some quick tips on good listening habits.

Suzann B. Goldstein of Warren, New Jersey has her Master of Arts degree in medical sociology from Rutgers University. She is a freelance writer and a poet, and is in the process of completing her memoir, UNEXPECTED LIVES . She can be contacted through her blog or through her email.

9 thoughts on “Let the Listening Begin

  1. Suzann, what a wonderful message you send to us all. I know exactly how you feel and plan to follow your example. I am going to try very hard to hear people out and not interject my own opinions or feeling into their words. I will stop interrupting as much as I do. I will stop trying to make things more pleasant and easier to take. Thank you.


  2. Liliana:

    Thanks for your response to “Let the Listening Begin.” To thoughtfully listen and then to reply to the embedded message from the speaker is tricky but so important. It’s not easy. I’ve learned we have to train ourselves to listen in a new way. Keep up the hard work. It’s well worth it.


  3. I found out that people find it hard to listen when I talk about my breast cancer. I am on stage 3 (invasive ductal carcinoma) and my lump is so big I have to undergo neoadjuvant treatment to reduce its size before my doctor can perform surgery. Next week, I will see an oncologist to schedule the chemotherapy and I have so many fears and worries to deal with. But the people I talk to avoid the topic, like it’s something that has to be swept under the carpet. They tell me not to dwell on it and to shelve the topic because it will only stress me. I don’t really understand why they can’t talk it out with me.

    • Darl:
      I hope you can find someone who will just listen to your fears and concerns as you go along this difficult journey. I recently finished surgery, lympt node removal, chemo and radiation. I am doing great now. I think it is very normal for you to want to express yourself and talk about your treatment and not sweep it under the rug to make others feel more comfortable. They are just scared and don’t know what to say. I hope you can find a buddy that is going through the same treatment to give you support. I did,we talked together for a year and now we are both survivors and will meet this year. God bless you and I hope the worst gets over for you real soon.

  4. Darl:

    Your comment on LET THE LISTENING BEGIN struck home to those who have learned the hard way to listen when others speak. I know. I’m one of them.

    I’m a research-based medical sociologist, not a mental health counselor or a psychotherapist, so the following comes from my life experiences as well as from my heart, and not from any therapeutic training.

    You may have to seek people out who will be attentive to what you have to say and who will listen to you carefully and fully. Hiding isn’t the answer. Explain patiently — very patiently, I might add — to the friends and family you love and respect that you do need to talk about your illness, not only to unburden yourself but so that you can think your issues through and, in the process, to understand them.

    Find those folks, Darl, and lean on them. They will appreciate the opportunity you’re giving them to help in any way they can.

    Good luck to you.

    Sue Goldstein

  5. Suzann,

    Your message is a good one for us all to take into our daily lives, whatever our situations. I am a 5-year breast cancer survivor, and I remember how lonely that time was for me, because very few of my loved ones could face my advanced cancer diagnosis, and they didn’t want to talk with me about it. They were in great pain also, and because I am a nurse, I realized that and I sought out co-workers (other nurses) to express my fears and anxieties to. My family members stressed to me the importance of thinking positive, and of re-directing my negative thoughts – laughing, relaxing, and all the other things that are equally important to getting through cancer treatment. I think your reaction to your daughter’s cancer is very normal, and I think you were responding to her cancer as any wonderful, loving Mother would – and I think you are being a little bit hard on yourself! You have dug deep within yourself to be better able to help your daughter get through this, and that is SO commendable! I think your daughter is blessed to have you for her Mother! Good luck to both of you, and God bless you!

    Kathleen Smith

  6. Kathleen:

    Thanks for your kind words. I appreciate them. And I’m glad you had friends who would listen as you shared your concerns.

    Your career as a nurse is an important one. In many cases, the nurse is the only one who will listen to the patient, or, indeed, to anyone. Listening is so important, as you’ve no doubt learned!

    Thanks again for your comment. Good luck to you.

  7. I have read very heartwarming stories from you… I hope you continue to write and be a blessing to us readers. I am one of the many who are trying to find a cure for cancer. I actually am conducting a study on the use of a parasite zapper and if it really can cure cancer. As a nurse, please let me know your thoughts about this. Thank you. Take care 😀

  8. D.

    Thanks for taking the time to comment on “Let the Listening Begin.” I’m glad it resonated with you.

    Good luck on your study. We all have to do whatever is possible to find a solution to this awful disease. You’re doing your part. Keep it up.

    Be well.

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