Listening is so 2010...
I would be lying if I said I’m a great listener. In fact, I know I’m not. But, I am damn good at pretending.
You know what I mean; nodding the head in reassurance, looking at that person deep in the eyes, interjecting appropriate “I see” or blinking in a way that shows I understand whatever it is they are talking about, all while thinking about the twenty other things I have to do that day.
My skill is not one that I am particularly proud of. No, I have reprimanded myself, making it a resolution everyday that I will become a better listener and focus on the person in front of me.
At this particular moment, I am watching the The Daily Show, simultaneously writing an article, and checking my email. I’m splitting my attention in different directions, all the while thinking about how I need to pack for my trip on Sunday night.
And, in case some of you are wondering, yes, I have gotten tested for A.D.D.
Not listening to others is not because I find what that person has to say uninteresting. I can’t even give myself twenty minutes to sit down and write freely without checking my phone or checking for news alerts.
I don’t sit down and listen to the thoughts running through my own head. Instead, I find different means that inhibit me from paying attention to myself or anyone for that matter.
The art of listening is hard to master. I find it increasingly difficult to listen to others when I am unable to sit down and do the same for myself. So, I thought, if I was really going to get serious about my whole resolution thing, I would need to be able to sit down for just ten minutes and write in my journal.
I turned off my cell phone, went into the other room, sat down, pulled out my journal and pen and began writing. I don’t know exactly how much time had passed, but two sentences later I found myself wondering how I was going to meet up with my friend for lunch, go to the grocery store, finish this article, workout, pick up a shelf I bought on craigslist, and cook dinner with my boyfriend.
It was then, in that very moment, I discovered the core of my listening problems:
I overwhelm my day with tasks, and therefore, I overwhelm my mind.
I opened my planner for the week and saw it completely penciled in. I took it upon myself to start erasing plans. It was not humanly possible to try to fit in 18 holes of golf, a writing session with my editor, coffee with a friend, then coming home to my boyfriend to give him my full attention.
One day, as my boyfriend was getting to leave for work in the morning I asked him if he thought I could listen better.
He started laughing and without hesitation said, “Yes.”
When I implored further he responded, “I just think it’s funny when you say ‘I hate to have to repeat myself,’ and I often have to repeat myself to you.”
My boyfriend works in a field that requires him to listen well.
I then asked him, “Do you have any books on how to be a better listener?”
He laughed again, but quickly went to look for a book he read while in school. In chapter six they define ‘active listening’, basically stating that it’s not a passive process.
And, that’s what I had become: a passive listener.
Most of the time I hear what the person is saying, but my reaction is passive. I am not emotionally engaged in what’s told to me, whether it’s showing excitement for a friend getting a job promotion or one of my girlfriends telling me about a killer pair of shoes she got on sale.
If my boyfriend felt I lacked in the listening department, then surely my friends did, as well. I never ventured out to ask my friends out of fear of what the answer would be.
So, like any good friend would do, I assumed they believed I wasn’t a good listener.
I started thinking about how frustrated I would get with my parents whenever they asked me about something I told them several times, such as when I was leaving for a golf tournament.
While I tried to attribute their forgetfulness to age, there was a part of me that felt like they weren’t listening or didn’t care. If I felt this way, it was quite possible my friends had the same reaction.
Taking the time to sit down and be an active listener takes a lot of freaking effort.
So, my new resolution was to set aside any mumbo jumbo I had going on in my head, and to realize that the stuff I needed to do later was not as important as the person sitting in front of me.
As my boyfriend lovingly told me, “Sometimes you are a great listener, and other times I wonder what the heck is going on up there. It seems like your mind is constantly racing to the next thing.”
To listen better, I do need to simplify my life so I am not overwhelmed with a to-do-list when meeting up with a friend.
I don’t want to miss out on important details of my friends’ and families’ lives. I want to be engaged with what’s going on with them presently.
I read somewhere that was we have one mouth and two ears for a reason. I’m going to start giving my ears a better workout and actively use them.
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