Express & Star

Hear the argument on really listening

Express & Star columnist Beverley Momenabadi asks people to listen up

Listen up

Do we ever really listen?

I’ve always prided myself on being a ‘good listener’. Over the years of working in public-facing, community serving roles, I’ve had to practise ‘active listening’. If we really want to get technical here, we can identify the different types of listening:

  • Informational Listening – where we listen to learn e.g. the way school children might listen to their maths teacher.

  • Critical Listening- where we listen to evaluate/analyse, eg: the way a jury may listen to evidence to come to a verdict.

  • Empathetic Listening – where we listen to understand feeling or emotion, eg: the way a therapist may listen to their client.

With all these types of listening, there is one key element, the ‘listener’ being quiet and allowing the other person to talk. Something many people find difficult. Let’s face it, we think communication is about talking. But perhaps it’s more about listening.

Having worked in politics for a number of years, something we often hear is that, ‘politicians don’t listen to their residents.’ Sometimes this is the case, I often meet politicians with the inability to just sit and listen. They HAVE to be the expert; they HAVE to offer a solution and all the time without letting the person that they are ‘listening’ to finish speaking.

We see it in the House of Commons daily from both sides of the House, the inability to not shout or heckle when someone is giving a different opinion. My experience is that people don’t always want to be listened to, so that you can provide your ‘expert’ opinion on how to fix something (often very complicated) that’s going-on in their lives. They want you to listen so that they can feel heard, so that they can feel understood, and so that hopefully someone can help them. That someone might not be you.

Prime Minister's Question Time in the House of Commons

On the other hand, there are many politicians who do a fine job of being able to listen. They value the voices of their constituents; they make a concerted effort to understand the issues going on in their communities.

Part of my role involves me going out in the community I represent, to meet different businesses and find out what they do and the issues that they face. The businesses have varied from pharmacies, logistics and catering. How can I possibly be the ‘expert’ in all of these areas? Of course THEY are the experts and I’m there to learn from them.

I suppose the way to really test if you have the ability to truly listen, is by answering these questions;

  • Are you happy with not always having the answer or solution to fix people and their problems?

  • Are you able to sit through meetings without interrupting the person talking?

  • Are you able to admit, that you don’t ‘always have the answer’?

If the answer is No, then I’d question whether you have been actively listening, and if listening with empathy is something you might consider, in order to make you a better communicator.

Beverley Momenabadi is a Wolverhampton Labour councillor