Wisdom is the reward you get for a lifetime of listening when you’d have preferred to talk. -Doug Larson
I like to talk. Often, I feel obligated to talk. After all, I’m a teacher by profession, so I find that people expect me to have the answers, that they expect me to be able to explain concepts and ideas to them in a way that they’ll understand.
But much of my talk falls into the category of sharing like experiences, and it’s usually pretty unnecessary. If someone is telling me about his or her vacation and they mention taking a certain hike, my tendency is to come back with something like “I went on a hike just like that,” followed by a detailed description of my hike. That’s not listening, though–it’s simply waiting for cues to give my own input.
A couple of weeks ago I had a great talk with a dear friend. She had just gotten back from a vacation, and she had tons to tell me. I told myself at the beginning of the conversation that I was going to practice listening, and do very little talking. Over the next hour I learned much more about my friend, her experiences, her perspective on life, her children, and so much more that I was kind of amazed. I didn’t sit there passively like a sounding board–I asked questions and I responded to her words. But I didn’t put in my two cents’ worth just because it popped into my head. And for me, it was a great conversation, as it was for her, too.
There are whole books written on listening and its power. It’s one of those aspects of ourselves that helps us to learn and grow if we practice it, but one that we usually neglect. Others won’t think less of us if we speak less, but they certainly will appreciate being with someone who’s willing to listen closely to what they have to say. Some of the most drastic problems in the world are brought about by people feeling as if there’s no one there to listen to them; by listening we can grow wiser and help others at the same time, which sounds like a pretty fair trade to me.
Questions to ponder:
1. How many role models of good listeners have you known?
2. What do you usually do when you’re tempted to cut someone off by sharing your own seemingly related experiences?
3. How do you feel when someone listens closely to you?
For further thought:
What does it mean to listen to a voice before it is spoken? It means making space for the other, being aware of the other, paying attention to the other, honoring the other. It means not rushing to fill their silences with fearful speech of our own and not trying to coerce them into saying the things that we want to hear. It means entering empathetically into their world so that he or she perceives you as someone who has the promise of being able to hear another person’s truth.
Parker J. Palmer
The Courage to Teach