When I was a child, I was what my older relatives would call a “Chatty Kathy”. I loved to talk (they would say), just to hear my own voice. I guess that comes with the territory of being the youngest and only girl of three older brothers. I was often left out and rarely listened to, so I just said what I wanted anyway (and often in a loud voice) in attempts to be heard by anyone who would listen.
I think we are all like that in a way. We all want to be heard, but few of us have developed our listening skills. We get angry with the sales clerk at the store because we think she is not doing anything to help us find the item we need, but we don’t stop to listen to her tell us that it is her first day on the job but she can find someone else who can help us faster. We get angry at our kids for acting up in public, but we don’t stop to listen to them tell us that they just really have to go to the bathroom in that moment. We act jealous and upset at our partner because someone we don’t know is calling their phone number and we immediately suspect it is an ex or some current threat, but we don’t stop to listen to our partner tell us that it is a wrong number and the caller was trying to reach someone who previously owned the cell phone number. Why is it so hard to listen? More importantly, what does it mean to listen?
In all these example scenarios, which may or may not relate to you, are meant to create a real life situation that brings attention to demonstrate the lack of listening and/or how easy it is to make assumptions. You see, most of the time when other people are talking, we have already thought of a reason, answer, excuse, or comeback before the other person has even finished talking. We ask questions, but do not wait for the answers. We seek out a reason of explanation, but we do not care to hear the response. So is it that we are impatient? Would we rather be upset and wrong, than hear the truth? Is our ego so big that we don’t take the time to value our relationships with others enough to really just be quiet and listen?
What does it mean to listen? Well as I’ve shared already, one must be quiet and listen to the other person. Now, this means many things. First of all you must rid of other distractions. We live in the days of cell phones, TV, computers, etc. STOP WHAT YOU ARE DOING! Now, you are more ready to listen. To listen is not just to hear, it means to silence your own thoughts and responses in order to fully comprehend and process what this other person is telling you. Listening is when you do not interrupt with your own thoughts or but you hear the person talk and try to understand what they are telling you. Another vocab for the day is active listening. This is practiced in interpersonal communication courses and probably marriage counseling as well (at least it should be – in my humble opinion). Active listening is when you do the first step I’ve mentioned, you are listening without interrupting the other person’s response, and then you repeat what they are asking in your own words, and ask if that is what they meant.
Let’s try a simple example of a couple.
Partner 1: “Honey, let’s go to the bar tonight.”
Partner 2: “Eh, I’d rather not.”
Partner 1: (NOT LISTENING) “Come on, it’ll be fun. We can drink and sing bad karaoke.”
Partner 2: “I’m exhausted. It’s been a long day, can we another next time.”
Partner 1: (LISTENING) “Okay, I hear you say that you are tired, had a long day and don’t want to go tonight, is that right?”
Partner 1: “Yes. Thank you for listening. Maybe tonight we can stay in, cuddle, and watch that movie you’ve wanted to watch.”
Now, as cheesy as this example was, listening makes the other person want to listen back. If we are paying more attention to what others are wanting, they notice and want to do the same in return. It doesn’t mean you have to do everything they are saying. That couple could have done separate activities that night. They could have gone out and just not stayed out late. There are many scenario endings to every circumstance, but when you are listening to each other there is a higher level of respect and intention. What you say will be received better if you are not screaming over one another to be heard.
As an adult I am still learning this skill. Yes, I said skill. Listening and active listening are skills and need to be practiced regularly, like anything else. Situations at work, home, with family, and my partner has continued to teach me that I still need to stop what I am doing, be quiet, and just listen. For some, they just want to be understood and know you care enough to take the time out of your busy day to listen to theirs. So, I hope that as you go about your weekend, you will think more about how you can practice the art of listening better to your loved ones and if they are not listening to you, perhaps you can have them read this blog entry too. We all have the room to grow and the time to learn, but it’s up to you to stop, be quiet, and listen.