Learning to Listen
The wise old women sat at the table, watching everything around her, for an hour or more she watched the people of the village drink and cavort around. Then she spoke, and the village stopped to listen.
The super awesome hero surveyed his surroundings, he noted every tree, every person and evaluated them while his ditsy girlfriend chattered on beside him.
These are characters from many different fictional stories, the quiet person that speaks occasionally but always has very wise advice when he or she does speak. The hero that spends more time watching and listening than speaking. Do you know why these characters are always in fictional stories? Because it is so hard to be quiet, listen and form a good cohesive thought before we speak!
Every year one of my New Years resolutions is to learn to be quiet and listen (I usually write shut up and listen). To really look at the people around me, to really understand what people are trying to tell me and most of all to learn from those people. As the saying goes, I have come a long way baby, but I am not to fictional superhero status yet. Here are some of the things I have done to help me be more wise and less ditsy.
Stop Internet Arguing
Seriously, stop it. I was so bad I couldn’t stop myself from typing a reply, let alone be quiet enough to listen to some who was actually speaking to me. So this is where I started. If someone said something on some internet board that I disagreed with I DID. NOT. REPLY. I let it go. I always told myself I was replying to try and enlighten the other person, the truth was I just wanted them to see things my way. I didn’t put any value into their point of view. Sure I might say things like “I see your point” but really what I was saying was “I don’t care what you think, you should think like me because I am so awesome.”
Repeat What The Other Person Said.
It sounds a little silly at first, a little Forrest Gumpish maybe, but repeating what you think the main point in a conversation does two things. First, it makes your brain process it before you have a chance to rebut. Second, it clarifies the point to both parties making for clearer communication. For me, this one was a little harder to implement. I was really bad at jumping in, sometimes before people had even finished speaking, but when I did I found that I got more out of conversations and so did the other person.
Set a Timer
Okay I didn’t actually set an egg timer, but every time I had to go to a meeting or business function I told myself I was not going to say anything for the first 10 minutes. I was going to say “Hi” and be polite, but I was not going to start telling people about my day or asking them about theirs for at least 10 minutes. If this one seems challenging to you, add some mind games to it to help your observational skills. Things like find all the exits in the room, note the color of the carpet and table linens, note the color of the serving staffs eyes. These things keep your mind occupied and your mouth shut.
Make it About the Other Person
Like I said earlier, even though I ran my mouth in what I thought was an effort to help other people, I was really saying I don’t care about you. That was very hard to admit to myself and when I finally did, I realized what a jack-hole I was being. Now I go into conversations with a little different approach. I want to know what the other person needs, what is important to them? I also want to know what they can teach me. Huge stunner here: When I shut my mouth I learned a lot more.
Anytime I write something, be it for this blog, a client or just an email for work I always edit it before I hit send. I want my written words to sound like someone cognizant wrote them. I had to start doing the same thing when it came to speaking. Before I speak about anything important, I repeat the sentence in my head. If it doesn’t sound good in my head I don’t, okay try not to, say it.
Does It Need to be Said?
This is the last, and probably the most crucial thing I try to do. Does what I am thinking really need to be said? Will it add to the conversation? Is there any real information or ideas in this sentence? Sometimes we want to say things because we feel like the other person needs to hear them, and maybe they do need to hear them, but are they listening? This one is the toughest when you are watching someone you care about do something awful to themselves. For example, I smoke, I know it’s bad for me, I have heard the horror stories and seen the pictures. My Mom was a nurse, she has shared lots and talked till she was blue in the face, but I wasn’t listening. Quitting smoking is something I have to deal with on my own, as soon as I figure out how to do it, I promise I will write a giant celebration post about it.
Listening more and talking less is a tough thing, but it really is crucial to learning more and having better more full filling relationships. How much does it bother you if you feel like someone isn’t listening to you?
This journey for me is tough, and I still work on it every day, but I have found myself much happier and much less stressed than I thought I would be. I worry less about saying the wrong thing, and I worry less about filling silences with some random jibber jabber. Learning to listen has helped my relationships and taught me so much, I hope you can learn to listen and become the awesome superhero of the story.