Last week I really messed up an opportunity to listen. My teenage daughter was asking me and my wife for ideas on places to go for a special date night with her boyfriend. I was working on my computer and heard her request in my periphery so I popped off a few of my half-baked ideas on novel locations. She was not impressed and let me know it. I made a snarky comment about how she shouldn’t have asked me if she didn’t want my ideas, and went back to my work.
An hour later I was in bed and I realized I had missed an opportunity to listen. My daughter wasn’t asking for ideas, she was sending out feelers to see if anyone cared about what mattered to her.
Listening to someone is a transformative gift in short supply
- It shows you care about someone and see them for who they are.
- It invites someone to open up and talk about what really matters.
- It builds connection and trust.
Why is it so rare?
- Addiction to mobile devices steals our attention without awareness.
- Our ego can’t resist talking about ourselves or trying to fix.
- Soundbite media teaches us to skim.
- Where did we learn that every conversation is a competition?
Good listening goes beyond empathy
- Empathy activates the pain centers of the brain.
- Compassion takes an active interest in another person’s life and experiences.
- Compassion activates the reward centers of the brain.
The cost of listening
- It takes time and focus.
- It’s vulnerable and intimate.
- It’s not about you.
A discipline that takes practice
- Close your computer, turn off the TV, mute your phone, your ego, and your agenda.
- Face the person and make eye contact.
- Listen to what they have to say.
- Get curious, like you are exploring a new place and can’t wait to see what’s around every corner.
- Never judge what you hear or see.
- Avoid the urge to solve or fix.
Want to get better?
- Go see A beautiful day in the neighborhood. Mr. Rogers knew how to listen.
- Download the “Let’s Listen and Get Better at Listening” guide from Sidewalk Talk. Watch Traci Ruble’s short video. If strangers can do it, so can you.
I got out of bed and apologized to my daughter for not listening. Then I told her, “I may not have any great ideas but I really care about what’s important to you and want to hear all about this special date you are planning.” Over the next two days I listened and she told me all about it.