Listening is underrated. We want to talk. About ourselves. Our challenges, successes and joys. But what of listening?
I mean really listening? Uh huh. What did you say?
Half-hearted attention to the person speaking is not really listening. Neither is being able to parrot back the last phrase of what was just said. (I was really good at that)
Really listening requires an undivided attention to the person speaking. As a Mom of one I was fully present when he was with me; I had to work full time when he was little so I treasured time and attention with him. As a stay at home Mom of two I perfected the “listening without paying attention” behavior while my hands and eyes were directed elsewhere. My youngest caught on and would reach my cheek and ever so gently pull my face toward him. Smart cookie.
Whatever could be more important than the stories of children? (I’m sure we can come up with a list. But really?)
I managed to grasp the value of listening by taking a parenting class where the basics of good listening skills were reviewed.
Focus on speaker, free of distractions
I realized I had developed the skate by and appear as if behaviors. It hit me: I wasn’t really being present. I was giving away precious time to other truly less precious things.
I needed to be intentional. That was in 1997. I was 40. A little too late to the party?
This is one of my favorite quotes of George Eliot’s. Illustrated by my favorite whimsical artist, Mary Engelbreit. This has had a prominent place in my life for a.long.time.
There was hope! I could become a more attentive Mom. And wife. And friend. And teacher. It’s never too late…
1997 was in the days before smart phones with all the social media connection points. For you history buffs out there.
I was once told I ‘could distract myself in a paper bag’ so that should tell you a bit about how much challenge lay ahead for me to develop the value of listening. But being intentional, making the same choice again and again and again to focus my eye contact on who was speaking, to free myself (as much as possible) from distraction, to really listen; I began to change my behavior.
I had the privilege of sitting next to a very intentional woman last evening. And listening to her speak about her life, her writing and her family’s intentional choices of simplicity. Tsh Oxenreider shared with all of us gathered to listen. Eyes on her, with few distractions. And great value came from that time. Tsh is very at ease in life; she confessed she doesn’t have all the answers and doesn’t want to lead in that way. She invites others to consider their intentions about family, money, priorities, schooling, travel. Tsh spoke a bit about her newest book Notes from a Blue Bike and the group of young women (I was the outlier) listening gleaned much. She also modeled the value of listening as she asked the group open-ended questions about their lives and was attentive to each woman’s response.
The value of listening. We can glean much from one another. What we do with what we take away is an intentional choice. Whether you’re a friend, wife, mom, sister, daughter, employee or employer, listening well is an intentional choice.
A step of intention. Who do you need to value listening to today?