It’s free to listen, yet somehow we struggle and find ourselves on the costly end of communication. About two weeks ago, I was surfing online and a great dialogue between an African-American and a Caucasian contributor was recorded. I enjoyed the viral video because it illustrated why the country finds itself divided on every topic imaginable. Simply put, listening is free but we don’t do it. See in this video the African-American male was very aware of his own biases and the biases that others bring to discussions. What grabbed my attention was the Caucasian male stating what he interpreted which reflected the art of not listening. It wasn’t about understanding someone’s else perspective. It was about hearing what was said at that moment.
This post isn’t about that discourse or race. It’s about those missed opportunities to listen that leave us embarrassed or disconnected from potential opportunities or even worse-the ones we love.
Recently, I have been paying close attention to moments of when I listen to hear, listen to take over, and barely listen at all.
Listening to hear is like combing or detangling your hair (shout out to all my naturals) with nothing (no debris or product) pre-existing in the comb. It’s a blank canvas moment where something great can happen (I happen to think detangling is a great moment if I do say so). It means the party listening isn’t blocking or filtering communication with their past experiences, victim cards, vendetta, future goals, or just the clutter of their own perspective. It’s what we all long for when we want to share experiences, dreams, or even fears.
Listening to take over is simple debate and even sometimes part-time conversation. This is when someone shares with us current events of the day, day-to-day nuances, or anything to catch us up and we tune in long enough to pull the topic away. We never mean to run down monologue lane but it’s so fun. Before you know it, we hi-jack a well-meaning shareable moment or exchange and soap box the conversation down as if we are running for election (I’ve done this a time or two-my apologies). Thus, leaving the person who began the conversation bewildered for even trying yet again to talk to us.
Yes, I see that your hand is raised. You want to know whether or not you have done this to someone. Oh, my friend. I’m quite sure. See this listening to take over isn’t limited to just snatch and grab conversation. It also occurs when every other line of the conversation is interrupted with questions (my deepest sin) instead of listening/following along. Sometimes this occurrence sounds like a bad soap opera as someone who is stuck in their issues finds every possible analogy or similarity between your reveal and their unfinished business. Please don’t have me illustrate with an example. That would probably hurt us all-honestly!
Now, we have my all-time favorite conversation price buster…*great time for some storm trooper theme music from star wars* Clears throat. Barely listening at all is the name of this game. We are all guilty. This is when we begin to listen and then just slip on to the following:
- the night
- a land far away
- some place we would love to travel
- the television show we are watching
- honey do list
- grocery shopping
- the next day at work
- plug-in your favorite escape
Yes, these are some of the great places we escape to when we are not committed to giving someone our presence and attention. This is an excellent way to encourage the ones you love or work with to slink back to whatever they were doing before talking to you. For those yearning for more explanation…this is what we do when our gadgets, entertainment, or solitude is more inviting than those vying for our attention. It happens when people begin to talk and we look up with no clue of the last 5 minutes of conversation. It occurs when we are asked a question or solicited for feedback that we cannot give because we went rogue after the fifth vowel of the first sentence. We never mean any harm but we are usually the most offended when the tide turns and we are ignored in this same manner.
Now that we covered that ground, let’s address the point of this blog. We cannot truly understand each other until we are willing to show up and listen with our hands down. That’s right, put down our perspective, campaigns, and gadgets. That is the only way to really show up in conversation. We are too plugged and overly opinionated. There are so many opportunities that lie wait-but our attention is the key to seizing those moments. Let’s take the make it to 2015 challenge beginning now.
When we are busy-let’s just ask that people come back to us when we can willingly listen.
If being a busybody is your excuse-then now you will be alone in more ways than one when you least need it.
Give similar and dissenting views a chance. Just because you relate-doesn’t mean that you really have to. There is a thing called over relating (not a word). Sometimes people just need to be heard.
Lastly, commit to being present. People can kick it with themselves. Instead we all try to share our time with people. Don’t make others regret sharing their time with you. Pull back, disarm, release, perk up your ears, clear out/declutter your mind, and listen.