“There’s a lot of difference between listening and hearing.”
― G.K. Chesterton
I’ve been working on listening – being quick to listen and slow to speak. I figure, I have time and it’s a loving thing to listen well. I’m not rushing anywhere. I can do this. I’ll be a more loving, listening person.
True confessions: I can easily finish other people’s sentences, wrap up what they want to say, or just put words in their mouths they never intended to say. OUCH! I interrupt right when my friend has a good sentence going. However, on this cancer journey, I have had a lot of alone, quiet time. When someone comes to care for me, I am excited!! First, I might interrupt their speaking a lot. I’m so excited that I become a monster, poor listener.
Then, out of respect for them, and because I really am working on being a good, loving listener, I find I am holding back from speaking, holding back my excitement tiger, just so I can listen and not dominate the conversation. However, when you’ve been in a dark hole (see above collage of said dark hole), you have lots to say! (It’s been bad, dark, hard, lonely, sad, etc) How do I not talk over other people? How do I not interrupt? How do I not dominate the conversation? How do I become a good listener?
Let me just start out by saying, having all my alone time has caused me to be OK with quiet spaces in conversation. It’s OK if there are pauses and no one is talking. No one IS talking in my apartment! That is a good start for listening. It gives listening some breathing room. Listening has all kinds of breathing room in my cancer fight, when it is quiet in my apartment for hours on end!
Then, when someone does come to visit me, after the initial celebration, 1. it’s OK if there are quiet spaces in a conversation. Let the speaker determine the pace. In fact, I think being OK with quiet spaces is good prep for going into any conversation. People may actually be taking time to form ideas or opinions. My grandson, Calvin, has helped me here. He often talks really, really, really slowly, almost like stuttering, often repeating what he has just said, I think, to stretch out our time together. If I try to speed him along, he starts with, “No, no, no,” very fast, and then begins ALL over again. I’ve learned it is faster and better if I leave him a lot of quiet space to fill with his stories, at his pace. People have to talk at their pace, and our listening has to slow down or speed up accordingly.
In fact, spending time with Calvin, and each grandson, really, has helped me with the second thing we should do in order to be a good listener; 2. put down the phone or other device, and actually LOOK at the person you are speaking with. I know, I know, it’s hard not to check email or a text 24/7 when talking with a 5, 9 or 11 year old, but chalk it up to good practice for conversations when some one tells you, point blank, they hate talking with people who are always on their phones. This practice will save you lots of red-faced moments later on with big, mature adults. Little people can be much more forgiving.
My friend, Judy, who just came to visit for my seventh chemo, says 80% of what is being said is non-verbal. She does peacemaker mediation, so I pay attention when she talks about communication. This fact means, I can’t glaze over my eyes while looking at the person I am listening to, and think of what snack I am going to get after this conversation has wrapped up. I actually need to 3. pay attention to non-verbal body language, tone of voice, fidgeting of hands, etc. What is the person saying with their hunched over shoulders or clenched fists? Have you shared an awkward moment when someone is quietly tearing up in front of you, and you freeze? Now, because of Judy, I move into the person’s space, and give them a hug and verbal encouragement to continue sharing. 4. I empathize because of their non-verbal clues. (Or verbal clues.) I remember, they may just not have words for 80% of what they are sharing.
When you empathize, my number 4 for good listening, you are deciding to put yourself right where the other person is emotionally or intellectually. You don’t offer a solution; you just have a moment of where they are, and you honor their place of suffering or excitement or retelling of an event. You sit right with them, in that space, and you let them define and describe the space. You don’t share your story; you stay out of judgement. You show them they are not alone. You empathize.
Here is a great video on listening in this way.
After a time of real listening, and when there is a genuine pause, 5. ask clarifying questions to help you better understand the story being told. This shows you are truly listening, and you care enough to go deeper if the person you are listening to wants to go there. My friends, Blythe and Paula, are really good at asking questions to go deeper. They don’t walk away from a conversation without some really thoughtful questions being asked. “Why did your doctor say that, Marcia?” “What were the side effects?” “How did that make you feel?” This questioning is a way of giving the speaker feedback, and it assures them you are really listening. It shows you’re not just waiting to say something about your own story or experience. It keeps you engaged in being a good listener. Next conversation you have, make yourself ask 3 Blythe and Paula-like clarifying questions. It’s a loving way of listening.
I only have one final thought on being a good, loving listener. It’s something I do when I hear women share their stories with any of the art I do to engage story. 6. I thank the speaker for the honor of hearing them. When we look at listening as an honor and not a bother, chore or interruption, listening is elevated to a high place. Which it should be. My friends, Tricia, Alice and Vickie are always so honoring in how they finish conversations. They thank the speaker for sharing, and often will pray with the speaker as a further way of honoring. The speaker has taken a risk, become vulnerable or transparent on some level. They are sharing themselves, and we should thank them for that, and perhaps, bring some things to the Lord’s care in prayer.
Let’s try to be better listeners! Listening is loving. I am determined to be quick to listen well and slower to speak. And, honestly, my underlying motivation is: I know God is the most loving, perfect listener, to me. (In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly. Psalm 5:3) He is my loving example, and I want to be like Him.
Loving In Listening
1. It’s OK if there are quiet spaces in a conversation. Let the speaker determine the pace.
2. Put down the phone or other device, and actually LOOK at the person you are speaking with.
3. Pay attention to non-verbal body language, tone of voice, fidgeting of hands, etc.
4. Empathize because of their non-verbal clues. (Or verbal clues.)
5. Ask clarifying questions to help you better understand the story being told.
6. Thank the speaker for the honor of hearing them. We can pray for them.
Her pace, Her face, her body, You Empathize, You Ask clarifying questions, You Thank and Pray.