Will You Just Listen?

Almost a year ago, I upgraded from my 8-year-old flip phone to a smartphone.  What one thing has gotten more difficult due to this device?

Listening well.

It's late and I can't find a relevant photograph, so here is an indifferent cat.

It's late and I can't find a relevant photograph, so here is an indifferent cat.

In conversation, I’ve noticed that a comment will spark a thought and I’ll be on my phone to check something.  Instantly, I am no longer listening, but off in another world.  Indeed, I am one of those people who can handle only one input at a time.  Growing up, I had to remind family members that if I was on the computer and not looking at them, I wasn’t hearing anything they were saying.  After which frustration often ensued!  Either I am listening to someone or some device has my attention instead.

Aware of these shortcomings, I often make an extra effort to listen well.  Here are a few techniques I’ve learned over the years that have been very helpful:

Restate what you’ve heard.  Listen to the words you hear and then respond with a paraphrased version of their story.  This gives them a chance to affirm that you understand what they are saying, ensuring that they feel heard and valued.  Seeking to restate the story they tell, in your own words, also helps cement it in your mind and deepen the connection between you.

Ask clarifying questions.  After to many mistakes over the years, I’ve begun to get better at setting aside the assumption that my understanding of certain phrases is the same as someone else’s.  For instance, the first time I had a conversation with a Muslim friend about prayer, I assumed we had the same exact understanding of that word.  I discovered some time later that my definition of prayer was quite different from his.  Throughout that first conversation, we never truly communicated because each one of us thought the other understood his unspoken definitions.  Had I asked deeper questions about his concept of prayer, our discussion may have been a lot more meaningful for us both.  We could have come away with a much better understanding of each others perspective and experience.

Deal with your mess.  Some years ago, I was stuck in anxious overdrive, dealing with several complex issues in life that I was having trouble solving.  These problems were constantly on my mind and required an enormous effort of will to lay aside so I could truly listen to and focus on someone else.  If you’re in this place, acknowledge it.  Get honest about whatever you are facing, and then face it.  I spent too much time worrying about problems instead of enlisting help and solving them and it robbed me of the chance to interact with others, to truly hear them, for quite some time.  Do not allow life’s difficulties to have such a hold on your mind that you are incapable of giving people the gift of a listening ear.  It is possible to drop those chains, be free, and be available to care for others.

Offering a listening ear is to give someone a great gift.  With a bit of work, you can increase your ability to offer such a gift tenfold!