Listening is a tool to use before you speak

illustrationThere is a well known saying, “we were born with one mouth and two ears because listening is twice as important as speaking”. For those of us that stutter, we probably think about communication more than most. However, what we often fail to realise is how communication is a two-way process. If I am to become a better communicator, and I don’t mean someone who does not stutter, it is imperative I listen, and do it actively. Words have for some time been my nemesis. I’ve changed what I wanted to say mid sentence, used fillers and avoided those awkward vowels and consonants to make my delivery appear more fluent. It’s a tiresome and frustrating sequence of events that has led me to wonder if I ever have the time to actually listen to what others are saying to me.

A million thoughts rushing through my brain as I open my mouthA million thoughts rushing through my brain as I open my mouth, waiting for the inevitable block, and then backtracking, leave little room for listening. In the past when I listened I did so only to identify when it was time for me to respond. A lack of concentration and knowledge about what I should have been listening to left me with only one option; to force out words and sentences that merely filled the silence.

You can learn to listen

So why then do I think I can respond in a way that shows the other person I am listening to what they have to say to me? Should I not be focusing on what I want to say? Well, no! For those of you who have not come across the concept of active listening, it’s a technique that is learned. As someone who has stuttered for many years, learned techniques are not uncommon. Speech and language therapy often consists of learning why it is you stutter and what happens when you stutter. This practice is one I like. It helps you to understand what happens when you block, and it enables you to understand the mechanics behind your speech. Similarly, active listening is about completely engaging with the person who is speaking. Eye contact (one we are all familiar with), concentration, and the reading of body language make us, as listeners, better communicators because we fully understand what it is that is being said.

How to listen

Now, as a keen listener, I focus on what is being said and how the message is being delivered Now, listening has become a tool for me as I seek to become a better communicator. In my own case, my stutter increases during conversation when I become excited, and I often revert to some of my old habits such as tapping my feet on the ground or my hand on my leg. In the past when this happened I would struggle to pause, relax, and continue. Habits die hard, and it is only through self-awareness that you can teach yourself to alter the pattern. Now, as a keen listener, I focus on what is being said and how the message is being delivered, and from there I use the person’s tone and delivery as a pathway for my own speech. I have spent much of my time over the last couple of years analysing others when they are speaking. Often they react to the person who is speaking as if they are rebounding off them, using them as a guide to follow. I must have been out of school that day when they taught that in the classroom, but you are never too old to learn. By identifying what is being said, the way the message is being conveyed, and what tone is being used, I respond in a concise and attentive manner. I often continue to stutter, but the pattern of my speech is less broken, and I am more relaxed. I have struggled in the past with blocking, taking deep breaths and then not releasing. It has left me with severe shoulder pain at times. With active listening, I am focused, and when I speak I know exactly what I want to say.

 Listening is a gift

 For too long I wrapped myself up in my own fears when it came to speaking. It was habitual at the start, as is the way with much of what is associated with stuttering. Learning to undo it proved difficult. I am in no way at the end of the learning process, but I am in the process nonetheless. For those of you interested in listening and understanding how to be more active when listening, there is a plethora of useful information, both online and in your local libraries. Michael P. Nichols’ book, The Lost Art of Listening: How Learning to Listen Can Improve Relationships, is a superb read, and offers much more than tips. I therefore leave you with, if nothing else, something to ponder ahead of your next speaking situation. And when in conversation, why not lend your ears to the speaker, and truly understand what it is you need to say in reply.

 Simon Walsh is a sports journalist in Ireland, and has been writing via his blog, Diary of a Stutterer for more than two years. Since it began, his blog has been nominated and shortlisted for several awards, including Blog of the Year at the Student Media Awards in 2013 and Best Health and Wellbeing Blog at the Irish Blog Awards in 2014. You can follow his blog here: www.diaryofastutterer.com