My wife looked at me after her exhaustive recap of the details surrounding an incident she faced at work, paused and said, “I can tell that you might be listening, but you haven’t heard a thing that I just said.”
Anyone who knows me knows that I’ve never been referred to as a man of few words. So at that moment when my wife confronted me with her admonition, I blinked two of those very slow and weighty blinks…and remained speechless. Guilty. Nailed. Exposed. I realized that my being in the room with her, just like the many other people I “am there” with in different situations, was not the same as being present with and truly hearing her. That moment changed me.
And that’s the good news about the bad news any one of us faces when confronted with the reality that we’re not the listeners we thought we were: we can change. Listening is a skill that can be learned and practiced.
Since then, I have become actively aware of whoever I am with, attending to the message being offered, recognizing the gift of their trust, paying attention to their need to be heard, and responding with sensitivity and humility. The result? Acknowledging and taking notice of another person, regardless of the subject, gives them the greatest gift of all: being seen, heard and known. It worked for Jesus. It worked for the disciples. It has worked for me. It can work for you, too.
There’s a lot of noise in the world today; endless talking, texting, blogging, advertising, Facebook-ing and the like. We are, on average, bombarded with over 20,000 forms of “marketing communication” every day. The noises become so deafening that we turn away, close our minds to everything and ultimately stop listening. But when we stop listening, we also risk not hearing the words, issues and insights that can help make our life better and the lives of those around us.
But, don’t just listen to what I have to say. Listen closely to the next conversation in which you are engaged. Focus. Set aside all distractions. Turn your face, body and full attention to the person right in front of you. And you will l hear what I’m talking about.