Communicating does not work if no one listens, unless one is talking to oneself, and even then its effectiveness can be questionable. If something is worth saying it should be worth being heard – and listened to. There is a difference, you know, between hearing and truly listening to what is heard.

Too often, the “noises” one hears go untranslated by minds far too busy with their own thoughts to do so. Their “screens” are too filled with their own agendas to give room to incoming “signals.” The best that can be hoped for is something called “selective perception,” that is, having those pieces caught that resonate with what is already on the screens.

For example, many so-called listeners latch on to one word or phrase that sets them spinning into their own thoughts while the rest of what is being said fades into a soft chorus of vowel sounds. Listening for what one wants to hear usually misses what another is trying to say. The listener proceeds to talk over the speaker’s words to make their own point. It happens on talk shows all the time.

Or with a couple having a serious conversation. The television is on or a computer is open and active while one of the couple is talking about an ill parent or a savings account transaction. The listener’s attention is terminally split and the speaker short-changed by whatever response is elicited.

When whatever needs to be heard clearly and thoroughly, two essential rules need to be in play: first, staking out the right time and place and, second, making sure the other hears all that is being said.

“We need to talk. When’s a good time?”  “Did you hear what I just said?” “Can we turn off the TV?” “I don’t understand what you’re telling me.” “Can you take off your sunglasses? I need to see your eyes.” “Is talking by phone okay with you?” “Let’s take a walk, go for a drive; I need some time with you.” “Wait. That’s not what we’re talking about.”

All of the above (add any other) can enhance effective listening. What is essential is presence, focus and clarity, none of which just “happen.” A really good listener works hard to hear what is being said and lets the speaker know so.

It may help to remember that open ears are like open hands; when closed, they cannot receive anything that is being offered.