July 2019 ECM Publishers

Many seniors have hearing problems. Many also have listening problems. There’s a difference. Bob Ramsey Guest Columnist


My dictionary defines hearing as “the sense by which sound is received and perceived.” Listening is defined as “to make an effort to hear something. To pay attention; heed.” Audiologists can help you deal with a hearing loss, but only you can correct your listening deficiency. Hearing less is a medical issue. A listening problem is a bad habit.

When people don’t listen to what they hear, mistakes, misunderstandings and misinterpretations can happen. Some are funny. For example, noted evangelist Joel Osteen tells the story of a doctor who was shocked when he saw one of his oldest patients at a park laughing and walking with a much younger woman. When he got a chance, the doctor buttonholed the old man and asked, “Wow, you sure are feeling a lot better, aren’t you?” The elderly patient replied, “Yes, doctor. I’m just taking your orders. You said get a hot mama and be cheerful.” The doctor said, “I didn’t say that. I said you’ve got a heart murmur. Be careful.”

But not all listening bloopers are amusing. Some lead to serious problems. As it turns out, good listening skills are essential for success in all human interactions. That’s why many business leaders believe it is more important to have the “best ear” in the room than to have the “best brain” in the room. Good listening is also a basic tool for vital ageing. Seniors, particularly, need to be good listeners to remain relevant, to maintain quality relations with friends and family (especially grandchildren), to get accurate information (e.g., medical diagnoses and directions) and to avoid costly mistakes or embarrassing misunderstanding in daily life. Everything just goes better when you listen carefully. Good listening also helps develop rapport. When people feel listened to, they open up more and listen more attentively in return. Effective listening builds community.

Unfortunately, listening is a neglected art in our society. That’s one reason so many of us have difficulty remembering names. The main cause of listening limitations among older adults is the assumption that listening is easy and just occurs naturally. The assumption is wrong. To listen effectively, you have to be intentional and practice. Good listening isn’t just a matter of remaining silent until the other person finishes speaking.

The best listeners pay attention; listen for the meaning behind the words; note what is not said as well as what is said; focus on body language (including facial expressions and gestures); repeat what they think they’ve heard to check for accuracy; and ask questions for clarity. Whew! Good listening isn’t easy; it’s work!

The bottom line is that listening is the lubricant for successful relationships at any age. That’s why my late-life mentor, Roland Larson, created a customised bumper sticker that simply said, “Listen to someone today.” Being a better listener is another good way to become the best old you can be. So if you want to hear better, adjust your hearing aid. If you want to listen better, adjust your attitude. Ya hear?!

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They are based in Western Australia and supported by Senses Australia.

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