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Are you really listening?

Action speaks louder - pay attention to the whole picture; it’s where you’ll find the hidden message.

Photographs: iStock

Text: Ophelia Wu

Have you ever had a small child throwing a tantrum over something relatively insignificant? The cry, fit, and anger are all ways the small child is trying to ask for help and be understood. The small child has a limited vocabulary and ways to express their emotions, so throwing a tantrum is the only way to draw attention and seek help. The same applies to adults. We engage in so many conversations daily, but how many of these do we get the real message behind?

What is your language of love?

A couple of years ago, I came across this book on human relationships called ‘The Five Languages of Love’ written by Dr Gary Chapman. The concept explains how everyone expresses love through 5 different ways – physical touch, receiving gifts, spending quality time, words of affirmation and acts of service.

When we don’t understand the differences in ways of expressing one’s feelings, it’s so easy to misunderstand and misinterpret each other. For example, if your love language is through spending quality time together while your partner is through receiving gifts, you’ll be frustrated and won’t feel as loved if your partner is showering you with gifts but never have time for you. The bigger picture is the misalignment in showing and interpreting love- your partner offers you their love by gifting. Perhaps unaware of what makes you feel cherished is fewer gifts but more quality time together. So if any discussions come up with things like “you never have time for me” or “I can buy you anything you want”, both parties are saying “I love you” in a different language. When both of you really listen to what the other is saying and make an extra effort to understand the needs or requests beneath all the conversations, you will find common ground and maintain the relationship balance. Understanding each individual has a different language of expressing love gives you a whole new perspective. You become more open-minded and empathetic when you communicate with others.

What if you’re in a new country and feeling clueless, or you don’t even speak the same language? If you really want to communicate and listen, language is probably not the most significant barrier. Babies and toddlers don’t even know how to speak yet, but we got the idea. Action speaks Louder- pay attention to the whole picture; it’s where you’ll find the hidden message. How is the person’s body gesture - is it open and welcoming, or closed and defensive? What’s the tone? Is it flat and blunt, or soft and engaging? What about the facial expressions? Is there any eye contact? Smiles or frowns? Do they look impatient or calm? There are so many things going on to give you an idea of what’s happening.

Take notes from funny memes

You always see funny and sarcastic memes on social media or websites about what the sentence really means. I’ve seen a few like “Let’s hang out soon – (meaning it could be five days or five years)”, you laugh, but we’ve all said polite things that we don’t mean the slightest and tried to ask for something beating around the bush nicely and implicitly. That’s precisely what we need to do- really listen to what’s the undertone. If we pay more attention to what people are trying to tell us, we get a lot more information without asking, even saving us from potential troubles. Not to pry or investigate, but we connect with others quicker and more genuinely if we understand the underlying emotion.

We all want to be heard, not literally; instead, what we have to say, what we need to say, what we need and want and have someone to understand us. It is through active listening we establish a connection and a bond. Active listening is a learned skill that can be trained; everyone can do that as long as you’re open to it and pay attention. Give your full attention to the conversation and open all your senses to pick up hints; you will realise your brain can filter out what’s essential and what’s not in no time. There’s always something you can learn from active listening that hasn’t been said out loud. Even if a person is rambling non-stop, it probably means that person is lonely and has no one to talk to on a meaningful level- they might not even need you to respond but someone to listen to them. In an international environment where we are unfamiliar, the best way to meet people and understand the culture is by active listening, even if we don’t understand the language. Not sure how to start? Start with ourselves, think of a time when we were a small child, and indirectly ask our parents for an extra treat.

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