Listening involves more than ears! The eyes are involved and the heart.
Listening for truth is necessary if we are to understand those we share our life with. We can’t just listen for what we want to hear. We must use our eyes to see the face of the speaker. We must use our heart to separate the important from the unimportant.
Some of us talk because it’s how we process what we are thinking. We use many words so that we can make sense out of the chaos in our mind. We send the words into the world, into the face of the listener, and hope, expect to be understood. We play with words to see what feels right. We think out loud.
Some of us talk after we have processed our thoughts internally and are ready to speak our reality. Few words are needed because we’ve already filtered out the unnecessary. We don’t need anything extra as we speak our truth.
For the listener, it’s an exercise in discernment. We need to concentrate our thoughts onto the speaker. No wandering of mind allowed here! If we don’t give our full attention, we may miss the significant parts. If we are listening with only partial attention while we are planning how we will respond when the speaker is done, we are sure to only get a piece of the intention, not the whole.
Emptying my mind is the first step in listening. I can’t have my thoughts jumping in and skewing the words I am hearing. That won’t work. I want to be present, in the moment, with openness, and empathy. I try to connect what I’m seeing with what I’m hearing.
It means I must be silent.
My silence allows the person to offer their thoughts to me. It gives them space.
I try to hear what is being said by looking into their eyes. What message are the eyes sending? What unspoken words lie within the recesses of their eyes?
When words seem to have ended, a question may seem right to clarify what I’ve heard. This gives the speaker an opportunity to help me understand what they are telling me.
I remember seeing an actor in a commercial answering a question about insurance. “Do you understand?” she is asked. She says “yes,” while shaking her head no. So, what’s the message? Clearly, she is not sure that she does understand.
My preference for conversation is one-on-one. Because of the intensity with which I listen, it’s draining if I have to do it with more than one. Sure, there are times when the conversation is just social, no ambiguity. Talk about the weather, the price of gas. Yet, it’s important to know when the words become more meaningful, when attention needs to be a priority.
I’m naturally curious. I like experiencing how people process their thoughts. It’s intriguing to listen, really listen, to someone I care about. Their face changes as their emotions sift through their words. Their eyes can glow with happiness or fade with despair.
Words are my life. I need them, want them, and cherish them. I hold them in my heart and allow them to comfort me, educate me, and challenge me. I don’t want to talk about the weather.
When I ask how you are, please tell me. I really care.
The good listener – “...she never tries to top it with a story of her own in those pointless competitions many people enter into, but rather concentrates on the person who seeks her attention.” Making Toast, a memoir by Roger Rosenblatt