Many successful political campaigns start out with a “Listening Tour” because citizens want to be heard and to feel what they have to say is important to the candidate requesting their vote.

The whole philosophy of a REPRESENTATIVE DEMOCRACY like ours is that elected officials REPRESENT their fellow citizens for making laws. And, the only way elected officials are able to represent voters is when they have first LISTENED to constituents!

Hearing is purely physical – successful listening requires mental engagement. Listen and silent are spelled with exactly the same letters!

Successful listening is EMPATHETIC listening – a skill set which improves with practice and intention. Empathetic listening is a key to success not only for candidates but also for moving up the corporate ladder and also for being a better parent, friend or spouse.

The skills empathetic listeners use include:

  • Show you are listening with your body language and by maintaining eye contact. As a demonstration you are paying attention, empathetic listeners occasionally nod at what they are hearing.
  • DO NOT interrupt mid-sentence or thought, but instead let the speaker finish their thoughts before asking questions.
  • Empathetic listeners demonstrate their interest by asking relevant and respectful questions, commenting with something like, “interesting,” or repeating back what the speaker has said to be sure they have heard correctly.
  • Empathetic listeners are not judgmental or argumentative and try to grasp the overall concepts the speaker is trying to convey.
  • Empathetic listeners are intentional about listening and focused on the person speaking. While taking notes on what the speaker is saying is perfectly acceptable, other forms of “multi-tasking” are not.

Many of us have bad habits which prevent us from hearing others. Here are a few bad listening habits to work towards breaking:

  • Disagreeing with the speaker by using a “Yes but” statement or with a “data dump” of different facts.
  • “One-upping” the speaker by sharing your own story which “tops” theirs. “That reminds me…” or “That’s nothing, let me tell you …”
  • Interrupting the person talking by jumping in to finish a sentence or asking a question which is not necessary to the main point of the story but instead is a minor detail.
  • Sending signals this conversation is a waste of your time by failing to keep eye contact, shaking your head, or with your body language such as looking at cell phone or watch, tapping your foot, or crossing your arms.
  • Criticizing the person who is speaking rather than what they have said or not responding to a request made by the speaker.

Efforts at a two-way conversation utilizing your listening skills will allow you to get to the bottom of your friend or family member’s vaccine hesitancy and fears. Recent research by several groups suggests vaccine hesitancy is often based on mis-information. The hesitation often falls within three categories: skepticism about the benefits of the vaccine, suspicions about authoritative mandates and general feelings of marginalization or a feeling society does not care.

Jeanne Safer, PhD, a psychotherapist for over 45 years, author of the book I Love You, But I Hate Your Politics, reminds us things aren’t as black and white as they may sometimes seem. “No matter a person’s politics, there are gray areas in all sides of the spectrum,” she says, suggesting you focus on shared core values and avoid being drawn into an argument. “Sometimes it’s perfectly fine to just walk away.”

The most important listening skill – especially when talking to the vaccine or mask hesitant – is perhaps patience. It can be difficult to change minds – especially minds heavily influenced by false news sources and articles which are not based on legitimate science.

But, working towards a safer holiday weekend for yourself and family members is worth brushing up on your listening skills and patiently applying them. Certainly, at the end of the day, doing what you must do to protect yourself and your children is the most important goal – even when plans must be canceled and feelings are hurt!

The Georgia WIN List team wishes you and yours a safe and happy holiday weekend!