Hearing aids may not help build needed listening skill

Duane Dailey

As we age, hearing loss creeps up on us. There’s a bigger problem: Listening loss.

There are electronic devices to help us hear. None are known as listening aids. Dang. Listening takes work.

Conversations become two-way streets. A listener must indicate message heard and understood.

This applies to couples or a president and a nation. Unheard not understood words are wasted blather.

Interaction requires speakers to hear and listen to responses. That closes in on communications.

Listeners must respond. It may require putting down the newspaper and facing the talker. It takes more than a grunted “UhHuh.” Some indication must be fed back to show the message was received.

What helps even more is for a listener to ask for more. A simple “Tell me more” continues the talk. It helps if talk goes back and forth.

A basic talent of a journalist is writing. But, first comes listening. The same goes for a leader — or a banker.

The recent MU Ag Lenders Conference had a new kind of speaker. Tucked among outlook analysts, CPAs and economists was a psychologist. Val Farmer, who writes columns for farm papers, talked about his skills. He gained fame for answering emotional questions, especially during the farm crisis.

He spent most of his time talking about listening. He gave examples from farm couples about relationships. Also, he told of needed talk between dads and kids, especially those entering the farm business. Most tips aimed at how bankers need to be better listeners. This can help make better loans. But much more can come from more conversations.

Bankers can get borrowers to talk more during loan applications. Informal visits on location after the loan is made helps. Ask, what’s up. What’s going on in the farm business? Are there any problems you see?

As a journalist, I understand the tips. Would you believe some farmers who spend much time alone are not effusive talkers? They don’t share their problems. That might indicate weakness.

Before we knew it, we heard how to prevent suicides. Farming has too high a rate in that area. Even family members might not know there are troubling aspects in a farmer’s life.

This happens not just in agriculture.

This week, a story in the New York Times tells how a couple released their daughter’s diaries. They thought their star student was okay. But the daughter kept a painful diary. She killed herself. However, she never spoke to anyone about dire concerns.

Conversation starters can be of value,

For the bankers, Val explained there’s more to listening than talk. Body language tells a lot. Tone of voice cancels words. A gentle voice can work in business better than an authoritarian I-have- all-answers voice.

This advice applies to parents. Sympathy is more than saying “UhHuh” or “Sorry.”

Truthfulness. Openness. Kindness. Sharing. Those are built through conversations. This builds trust, not a wall.

Improved listening to others takes more than help from a hearing aid. Listening aid comes from within our own social skills.

An eye-opening story in “The Atlantic” this month says gossip is good. We’re often told to not gossip. But, informal sharing of tidbits, even bad gossip, builds networks. It shares a moral climate in a group.

Long ago in a workshop on newsletters, I learned that one way to make a better group newsletter was to know the water-cooler gossip. Those give inklings of lurking problems.

Newsletters give factual responses to rumors afloat in the group.

An MU teacher of millennials encourages talking. Young people are text driven. Not talkers. They even need to learn how to use an office phone.

Come to think of it, I know some older folks who are never far from their mobile devices. If you text more than talk, maybe it’s time to speak up. Texts lack the emotional feelings of gossip.

Send your conversation starter to duanedailey7@gmail.com or 511 W. Worley, Columbia, Mo., 65203.