There is perhaps nothing more devastating to modern relationships than our inability to really listen to one another. The noise we hear from our partners in community is only a fraction of what they are trying to say. We are terrible listeners. Always thinking of what we are going to say next. Easily bored and distracted by anything that is of no clear and direct benefit to us.
The unity of our relationships is off-kilter when each of us desperately wants to be heard but has no real desire to hear the other. If we want to save our relationships, our businesses, our culture, there are few things that will make a bigger impact than learning the lost art of listening.
When my wife and I first got married, we noticed a pattern of behavior (in both of us) that was dangerous. Whenever one of us was talking, the other was quick to find something else to do. “I’m listening,” we’d shout as we started taking out ingredients for dinner or turned on a baseball game or opened our Instagram.
The truth is, we weren’t listening. Not very well. We hide behind guises like ‘multi-tasking’ when the truth is we are just too easily distracted. We do not value one another enough to stop everything else we are doing and just listen.
My wife and I made an arrangement. When we are talking to one another, there is no checking the phone, no little tasks around the house, no television. We’re going to value what one another has to say. We’re going to focus on our communication. It’s not going to be the white noise in the background of our lives. It is going to be at the forefront.
By far, the greatest challenge in listening to others is pride. We only listen to others until we find something we want to say. Once we have an idea, an insight, a point to make, we are fixated on it and everything else disintegrates to background fuzz. Unfortunately, this usually happens pretty quickly in a conversation.
I sometimes interrupt my wife because I just can’t wait to say what I want to say. I shut her down because my selfish pride thinks what I have to say is more important than what she might be saying or what she might say next. Indeed, I think all she has said is just a precursor to my thoughts and ideas.
This week, as I’ve been thinking about this topic, I have been trying to catch myself when these things happen. It is embarrassing how often it does.
Another aspect of humility is patience. Don’t assume you have the whole conversation figured out within the first few seconds. Ask questions. Be open and interested in what might come next. You might be surprised.
If we want to communicate effectively, we have to accept the fact that it is a two way street. You have to want to hear as much as you want to speak. Otherwise, you’re missing at least half of what your relationship might be.