Can You Hear Me Now?

“Mommy, what’s it like to hear out of both ears?”

“I don’t know. What’s it like to be Deaf in one ear?”

My six year old self had never thought about that perspective before.

I was born Deaf in my right side, and there is no way to repair it. To be completely honest, I wouldn’t have the slightest idea how to walk around this world 100% hearing. The amount of incoming noise alone would be overwhelming, and I’d likely look like a newborn giraffe since my balance would be all wonky.

My mom’s point was clear. She didn’t know how to be hard-of-hearing any more than I knew how to be completely hearing. It’s something we could only empathize about the other.

All of our life experiences up until this very moment shape who we are and what we know to be truths. People we grew up with, the education we’ve received, the jobs we’ve had, all of it builds our perception of reality and normalcy. Sometimes, it’s easy to forget that our others haven’t had all the same experiences in life. Miscommunication, misunderstanding, and conflict, especially in intercultural encounters, are so often produced by our inability (or unwillingness) to think outside of our own box and take on a fresh lens.

We need more empathy and understanding in this world. So here are a few tips to try before you throw in the towel with someone and agree to disagree.

  1. Take a deep breath

Yes, I’m serious. How many times have you found yourself heated because the other person just wasn’t “getting it” or you felt unheard? Take a second to cool off and remind yourself that the other person, isn’t deliberately trying to get under your skin (probably). Think about how you could get back on the same page.

2. Listen

You’d think this would go without saying, right? Nope. We are immersed in a culture of talkers. So often we are just waiting for our turn to talk instead of actually hearing what the other person is saying. I’d be lying if I said I haven’t caught myself doing this, and I’m willing to bet you have too.

To improve active listening skills, mentally repeat what the other person is saying as they speak. You know that “womp womp” sound Charlie Brown hears when his teacher lectures? This tip helps prevent that from creeping into your conversation.

3. Empathize

This probably takes the most practice and patience. Visualizing yourself in someone else’s shoes doesn’t come as naturally to some as it does to others. Think about all the experiences that have shaped the way you think. Your experiences have impacted your perception and outlook on just about everything. Is there any chance you’re seeing through a lens the other person doesn’t have or vice versa? Consider where the other person is coming from or what they’re experiencing and you might be surprised how much easier it is to understand what they’re saying.

It’s easy to believe what we know, feel, and think to be absolute truth. However, keeping those lenses on does not make for healthy communication habits or kind interpersonal encounters.

My mom had the right idea. We all have qualities and experiences that shape us, and we can’t fathom being any different. But that should never hinder us from stepping outside ourselves and looking at another perspective with clear vision.

Cliché as it may be, walking in someone else’s shoes is pretty eye-opening.

Ashley Montano is an Associate for HugSpeak Consulting. She recently earned her BA degree in Organizational and Strategic Communication with a minor in American Sign Language/Deaf Studies. Connect with her on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook.