Lately, I’ve been hooked on a new series on Netflix called “13 Reasons Why.” The story is told from the point of view of a teenage girl who dies by suicide.  13 Reasons Why features flashbacks from her past year in high school and all the hardships she faced prior to her death.

This show made me think about what happens when we don’t listen. Listening skills are not just based on verbal cues. What verbal and non-verbal cues do we miss when we don’t listen?

  • When pains in our body may be signaling us to a serious problem.
  • People’s facial expressions when we ignore them to look at our phone.
  • When we dismiss our dangerous behaviors even though someone we love becomes injured doing the same thing (distracted driving, alcohol intoxication, physical violence, ignoring medical treatment, unsafe sex)
  • When we lose a loved one and in hindsight, remember all the lessons they gave us.
  • When a loved one, friend or child averts eye contact and says “nevermind.”
  • Forgetting important dates because we quickly said “yes” before understanding what we agreed to.
  • Being unaware of our surroundings due to earbuds, scrolling social media and other technological distractions.
  • Being unaware of signs of illness in our loved ones or animals.

As a therapist, I have to be in tune with my clients when they enter my space. Did you know that crossing your arms is a non-verbal sign that says “I’m defensive and probably judging you?” I never cross my arms in session. I cannot appear “blocked” to whatever they’re expressing. I noticed that when I’m off work I cross my arms a lot (because I’m truly OFF DUTY).

What are other non-verbal cues to show you’re “actively listening?”

  • Leaning in towards the person speaking
  • Facing the person speaking
  • Making eye contact

In 13 Reasons Why, the main character, Hannah, tells a male classmate, “Here’s the thing. You’ve never been a girl.” As the world demands that our leaders LISTEN to our voices, their failure to pay attention is costing us our lives. Black Lives Matter wants people to LISTEN and take action. People young and old are YELLING for leaders to understand the impact of stripping away our health care. In hindsight, the characters in this show, realize where they weren’t listening to Hannah and appear remorseful for not being a better friend.

There is power in numbers.

The number of people who will listen to us when we need help.

The number of people calling their elected officials demanding that their rights be protected.

The number of parents who petition for change in their childrens’ schools.

There is power in numbers and power in our voice. If we’re being ignored, politely ask for someone’s attention. Find a way to get their attention. Your doctor, a 2nd opinion doctor, your boss, HR, your teenager, the principal, etc.

What happens when we stop listening?

I’m afraid to find out.

Let’s remember to reconnect, to stay in tune with our bodies and keep an eye on the ones we love. It’s hard to ask for help. Open up that conversation with someone and just listen.

Here are a few statements you can use to show someone you are truly listening

(tip: this is good for supervisors and parents)

“I’m on your side.”

“You’re making total sense.”

“I’m sorry you have to go through all of that.”

“I understand why you feel that way.”

“Wow that must have been frustrating.”

Please share this post with any loved ones or colleagues. Active listening is important in our families and workplaces. If you or someone you know is having thoughts of harming themselves, please use the following resources for assistance.

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