Are You Listening To Me?

“We must love them both, those whose opinions we share and those whose opinions we reject. For both have labored in the search for the truth and both have helped in the finding of it.” Thomas Aquinas

I noticed over the last several years, people have become increasingly “amped up”. I’m not sure if it’s because of the political climate, the evolution and increased use of smart phones, recent health scares, or what; not sure. And, I’m not sure if we have failed to believe others speak truthfully or bring value to the conversation. But what I am certain about is more people have less patience when talking to each other than ever before.

You ever watch a person typing incessantly on their phones and then ask them to stop so you can engage with them in a conversation? Do you get the giant sigh? Or how about the “fidgety” movement you might see when a mouse is in the corner and it’s trying to find a way to escape?

So often we go in to “collaboration” meetings, and there appears to be more concern with getting one’s point across than collaborating, so we talk over and through others. And, all of a sudden, there’s a hail storm of people talking and you leave with a headache and no action steps. Or, worse, the conversation turns in to arguing, bickering. I think we need to heed Thomas Aquinas’ advice or we miss an opportunity to show someone we care, we listen, and we understand your need.

I once learned some simple exercises in college and in my youth I find appropriate now to reflect on and draw from as an inspiration for deeper listening and understanding.

    • Listen with both ears and both eyes, not with one mouth: I was told by my mother (and some of you may have had a similar experience with your own mothers) that there’s a reason we have two ears and one mouth: to listen twice as much as we talk! It’s hard to understand AND comprehend if we allocate more time talking than listening.
    • Body language & facial expression: body language has been key for me as it helps with engagement. Think about it for a minute. How have you felt when you were talking to a person who starts to slouch in the chair? Or their hand is across their face like they don’t care to hear you; their arms are crossed against their chest? Sit up, lean forward, nod your head. All of these suggestions reinforce you’re interested in what’s being said.
    • Eye contact & facial expressions: for the same reason as body language, make eye contact with the person talking. The optics of eyes wondering, or looking out the window or around the room like a pinball machine, doesn’t allow itself for healthy, engaging conversations. The same recommendation is true with facial expressions; be genuine and engaged, not distracted or uninterested.
    • Repeat or Mirror what you heard: one of the best ways to let someone know you cared enough to hear them is to repeat (or summarize) what was just said. Plus, mirroring can actually enhance in the collaboration of problem solving.
    • Physical contact: sometimes when it’s appropriate, a simple reassuring touch on someone’s hand or arm actually shows you genuinely care about what’s being said.

There are so many books you could read, classes you can attend. I’d challenge all of us to just open your eyes and ears and listen to what’s actually being said. Start by going home tonight, turn off the television, the radio, the phone, and sit in meditation outside and listen to world. Then, transfer that lesson to listening to someone you care about and enjoy the outcome of what could be something new: a conversation and not a hail storm of words.