“ I don’t understand” is not “ What did you say?”

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

When I see a slogan says “ We hear you”, my mind begins to wonder. I am not writing this in the past tense because it is still happening. I used this picture because I’ve seen it numerous times. I heard motivational speakers said “We hear you!”

The questions that pop to mind are, “ Is that why real change rarely comes? Is that why communication is rare and connection is scarce?” Then, another question, “ Then, why do we say to our young ones, or our love ones, or our friends, “ You are not listening!”?” Do we listen to them? Or, do we merely hear them? Could or should we reflect on this? Should we do something about it? Or, should we just stop at “ You are not listening!”

I am writing this on Tuesday morning, November 9, 2021, because the thought came to mind while I made my coffee…my morning ritual is to drink 2 glasses of water, make a “great” cup of coffee ( great in my likings), get a bowl of fruits, do word puzzle for 30 minutes, have a conversation with my “partner of life” for 30 to 45 minutes, read for 45 minutes, and write for 2 to 4 hours. I chose the book(s) and (or) articles based on the thought that came up while I made my coffee. This morning’s thought is “hearing vs listening.” I am reflecting on my teaching and coaching. When I feel that my message does not come across, I have the need to reflect on “why and how I said it.” Did the message need to change? Did I need to change the ambiance? The mood? The words? The intent? Did I include my students or my coaching clients in the communication? Were we ready to have the conversation?

I am working through my logic. I mentioned my morning ritual because I am the kind of person who prioritizes, analyzes, and thinks about most of my actions and words — yes, at times to the point of doubting myself, or parallelizing myself from actions because of overthinking! My morning ritual is based on priorities. I believe that mental and physical wellness come from hydrating my body, hence two glasses of water ( did this since I was third grade). I love coffee, so it is important that I spent 10–15 minutes to make it, and a bowl of fruits is a way for me to wake up with “the earth” as fruits come from it. Then, having a conversation with my “partner of life” ( no, he is not my boyfriend or husband; he is literally the partner of my life) — this particular ritual could suck if we ended up arguing, yet I take the risk since I believe “ we better off putting everything on the table, listening to each other, rather than repressing our thoughts and feelings.” Then, the next three rituals is my whole being: cognitive, emotional, mental, and soul — through puzzle, reading, and writing. I am “listening” to myself with my morning ritual. My intent is “to understand” myself in connection with “self” and “others.” Listening is important to me. “ Am I listening enough?” “ Am I listened?”

The books I chose was: “Learning to Listen, Listening to Learn” by Mary Renck Jalongo, “ Failure to Connect” by Jane M. Healy, Ph.D, and “Thought and Language” by Vygotsky. The first book was about how we could help children develop the skill of listening — and this is precisely why I have to reflect on my “listening” skill since I can’t teach my students or coach my clients if I, myself, am not bettering the skill! My students will call me a “hypocrite” and rightfully so! — The second book is about how computers affect the children’s mind and their ability to connect — which is obvious to me! Not just children, but also adults! — The third book, I specifically chose the chapter of “ The Genetic Roots of Thoughts and Speech” as listening relates closely to thinking and speaking. I read, took notes, listened or saw the recording (I recorded sessions with my clients), relived the classroom interactions, and jot down the questions that I needed to ask to and dwell on with myself. One of my students, Victoria, shared a story with me, and in the introduction she wrote “ when your stating the facts many people feel like your taking the fun out of life and making it boring. But sometimes we need a boost to understand.” Exact quote, I didn’t alternate! She was my inspiration to get to the facts, with the questions I asked myself, as boring and tedious as it might be, so that I could understand others and deliver my message better.

My notes- important excerpts and questions to myself:

“ In the folktale, Little Red Riding Hood meets the world remarks, “ What big ears you have!” to which the wolf-in-grandma’s-clothing replies, “The better to hear you with, my dear.” Oversized ears may help us to hear better, but they do not ensure better listening. In fact, sounds can be perceived with complete auditory accuracy, but unless they are connected with understanding, listening does not occur. So effective listening begins with hearing, but it certainly does not end there.” ( Jalongo, p.9)

Did I stop at hearing? Was it because of certain words? Or, was it because of the student is not doing what I think he/she is supposed to do? Was my understanding or words I used representing what I called “vertical understanding”, meaning: I am a teacher and they are my students, or I am older and they are younger, or I am a coach and they are my clients? Vertical understanding, most times, does not sink right with others. Are my students or clients ready to listen to the message? Is this an appropriate time? Is this an appropriate skill? Should we work on it at a later stage?

“When Max is at home on a Saturday, or on vacation, he may hit the computer as soon as he gets up, ignoring repeated entreaties to eat breakfast, and finally ignoring bowls of cereal placed under his nose as he plays one of the war-strategy games he currently lives…What’s last is the old dream that parents and teachers will nurture the organic development of the child’s own interests, the child’s own nature. In this country, people possessed solely by the desire to sell have become more powerful than parents tortuously working out the contradictions of authority, freedom, education, and soul-making” David Denby in The New Yorker ( as quoted in Healy, p 191)

The quote brought about the important, yet seldom thought of topic, “ what do our children become, and (or) what do we become?” This question means more than “what do our children learn, and (or) what do we learn?” Listening is a skill that enables us not to stop at learning, rather it encourages us to go on to becoming. Listening does not provide us with the ability to respond and to answer within seconds; for most times, listening, at its core, prevents us from responding. Listening has me “stunt” for most times. The “aha” moments come, and the connection begins. Listening brings out the “contradictions” that I am feeling inside me: the freedom to answer and the chance to understand. Which one do I weigh more? Does the freedom to answer lead me to understand a person? If yes, then I exercise the freedom to answer. If no, then, I should halt and reflect, which leads me to understand. Listening is about exercising the role as an “authority” with care. And most importantly, listening leads to soul-connections — the kind of connection that is unsaid, yet lasts.

“ The chimpanzee is an extremely gregarious animal and responds strongly to the presence of others of its kind. Köhler describes highly diversified forms of “linguistic communication” among chimpanzees. First of these is their vast repertoire of affective expressions: facial play, gestures, vocalization; next come the movements expressing social emotions: gestures of greeting, etc. The apes are capable both of “understanding” one another’s gestures and of “expressing.” ( Vygotsky, revised by Kozulin, p. 71–72)

Listening does not begin with words. Hearing does. Listening starts with facial expressions, gestures, body language, tones, eye contacts, a sound of sighs, chuckles, a slight movement of lips, and other details, other than words spoken. At any given moment, did I display a certain gesture, or say with a certain tone, or deliver eye contacts that made my students or clients unable to listen to my message? Were certain gestures or tones more successful to some and not others? Did I miss the signal that my student or client send to me? Would I need to clarify? Would I need to let go?

My sharing with all of you today:

Before we say, “ Are you listening?”, maybe, it is good for us to ask ourselves, “Are we?” or “Am I?”

Listening occurs when we aim to what I called “horizontal understanding”, meaning: you and I are equally important in the conversation. Horizontal understanding includes respect, consideration, empathy, patience, and reflection.

Listening tends us to do more than “learning”; it brings the importance of “becoming”. We are all different. Hence, if we were going to connect with each other, we need to learn to “become”, i.e. some changes need to happen. We can’t stay stagnant.

Listening encourages us to be extra careful with responses, as listening does not start with words. It starts with our empathy and observations towards the other person.

  • A special note to my student, Victoria, “thank you for a great message you shared with me the email. I appreciate it greatly!”

“Hearing is listening to what is said. Listening is hearing what isn’t said.” ( Simon Sinek)

“Don’t listen with the intent of answering, but with the intent of understanding.” (Bobby Albert)



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Eko BP

Eko BP

craves for more adventures and connections with others through the “why” and the “how” with kindness, challenges, incompleteness, with a touch of cowardliness