The Art of Listening
Art may seem like a strange word to use in relation to listening. But art is a skill. And it is beautiful. To listen is to pay attention – to attend closely to what another is saying – for the purpose of really hearing. Listening, like art, is a skill. Listening sends a message to the speaker that you care, that what they are saying is valuable enough for you to give your attention to. And similarly, not listening sends a message to the speaker that you don’t really care…that something or someone else is more important. Listening, like art, is beautiful…because it communicates worth without saying a word.
In these days of continual connection via phone, text, social media, and all sorts of technology it is truly a beautiful skill to be able to tune out peripheral noise and distractions for the purpose of connecting solely to the person speaking. But then, all technology aside, some people just need to learn that life isn’t all about them. That the saying, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care,” is more than a cliché. It is true. Let me illustrate that…
My husband and I were having dinner with someone who was a new acquaintance recently and were quite amazed that the person sat down, started talking, and didn’t stop until we literally stood up (almost 2 hours later) and said we really must be going. We got in the car, looked at each other, and after a few seconds of just staring at each other in stunned wonder, we both simultaneously said…“Wow.” We didn’t know what else to say. Then we burst out laughing because of the absurdity of the whole thing. Who meets someone for the first time and talks nonstop about themselves??? Well…after running this scenario by a few other people, evidently quite a few people do.
Many of our friends and colleagues had similar stories of their own. They didn’t all involve nonstop talking, but they did involve people continually texting or reading texts, answering their cell phone for reasons that were not urgent…and actually talking with the person on the other end while the person sitting across from them waited…and even checking email.
Sure. Sometimes things are urgent. And when we explain upfront that we might be getting a call we have been waiting on that is extremely important, people understand and are generally not surprised or offended. But wouldn’t it be nice if this were the exception, not the rule? If people with whom we were actually in their presence got preference over those who were not?
Genuine listening is becoming a lost art. Caring enough to give our attention to another is important. People are worthy of being heard.
I read an article by Michael Hyatt where he shared one of his family traditions. Dinnertime at his house is a time for the “one conversation rule.” This means that everyone at the table engages in the same conversation, with no side conversations and no technology. Everyone gets a chance to share their input on the topic, listen to others input, and ask questions to draw out more about each others’ opinions. He shared that this practice has become such a habit in his home that everyone knows and appreciates it because of the value received and given during these special times.
Perhaps this week we could practice the one conversation rule. Why not eliminate the need for those in front of us to compete for our attention. Let’s practice adding value to others this week, simply by practicing the art of listening.
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