Are You Listening? Tips for Better Communication in the New Year

Dagmar Munn avatar

by Dagmar Munn |

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What’s my big wish as we all move forward with pandemic life in 2022? To live in a world with better communication skills. Specifically, to improve how we listen to each other. Because from where I sit, there’s a whole lot of telling going on and not enough waiting to hear the response. I fear we are slowly losing “the art of listening.”

Yes, I’m up on my soapbox (the one with special safety handrails). So, hear me out (pun intended), and I’ll share how we can improve how we listen and communicate with each other.

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Diminishing conversations

Many people who have ALS-related dysarthria, like me, lose the ability to speak. The condition reduces not only what I can say, but also the method of saying what I want to say. Listeners are likewise challenged.

For example, although my husband does his best to understand what I am saying, I often have to add, “Wait, let me finish!” Or, “That’s not what I said!”

And depending on the circumstances, I’ve learned to edit what I say, reducing colorful explanations and in-depth opinions to simple concepts requiring fewer words. It makes me feel as if I’m stuck in a badly captioned foreign-language film in which we see mouths moving and arms waving, but below, the caption reads only, “Yes.”

Wearing a face mask makes my mumbling even worse. No matter what I do — talk louder and slower, repeat sentences — the mask blocks all of my words from being heard, leaving me to rely on head nods or simple thumbs-up or thumbs-down gestures. Suddenly, I’m “it” in a game of charades.

Where are we now?

During these pandemic years, we’ve all recalibrated the way we communicate — we’re Zooming, sending emails, and tapping out texts. And it’s no surprise that research shows that those at the receiving end tend to incorrectly gauge the sender’s emotions or intent.

More than once I’ve hesitated to send an email, finding myself stuck in a loop of proofreading and worrying if my choice of words or emojis would be misinterpreted.

When I’m on Zoom, I miss being able to “read” the body language of whomever I’m talking to.

The lost art of listening

Years ago, during my professional working days, I had the opportunity to take a course called Active Listening. I signed up thinking the class would be easy, but quickly discovered it was a fun, challenging experience.

Active listening requires you to listen attentively to the other person, understand what they are saying, and respond appropriately while retaining the information for later. No getting distracted while they are speaking by forming counterarguments in your mind, or losing your focus by paying attention to others nearby.

I think we all could benefit from doing a little more of that!

Whether you live with ALS or care for someone who does, use these tips to get you started with the techniques of active listening in your conversations. I know I certainly will.

And while we’re on the topic of communicating, don’t forget the value of using the “ham sandwich technique” — an analogy for creating a “sandwich” with your words, which I described in a previous column — when making a request or a correction.

One of the challenges of 2022 will be to continue to support one another and honor our connections. Improved communicating and listening skills are at the top of the list. Let’s continue to learn to live well while living with ALS.

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Note: ALS News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of ALS News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to ALS.

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DAVID Mainesmith avatar

DAVID Mainesmith

have als 1 yr. 72 yrs young

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