SSSH!!! I’m listening

MY thoughts are jumping and pushing for escape and I just cut you off mid-sentence to take the floor.

It’s not that my thoughts are more important than yours, it’s just that, well, I have so much to say, and, yes, I am a little bit rude.

You see, I don’t listen.

I don’t quite remember what you were saying because while you were talking, I was already working out what I wanted to say in response.

The words are forming and before I know it, they are tumbling out and I am cutting you off.

I have to speak a little louder to speak over you and make you realise I now have something to add to the story.

Lucky for me, we are good friends — we must be, because I’ve been doing this for years and you still talk to me. I’m sorry.

However, I caught myself in the act the other day and made a conscious decision to hold my tongue. You will never guess what happened.

I actually heard the whole story. And it was good! Actually, it was so good, I thought I would try it again sometime.

The next night at dinner, while the table was bubbling with conversation, I focused on one person at a time and I listened.

I let them finish their stories while I maintained eye-contact and encouraged them with the occasional nod.

The act of listening without thinking is not an easy one, especially if it’s not something you have done a lot of before.

It took concentration and determination, but it was well rewarded.

I got to hear the end of Master 7’s story of who found his school jacket.

This led on to more stories about who is playing with whom in the school yard and some of the complex issues of being seven.

That was my bonus gift for not rushing to fill a space. I also got to hear some specific details about the overseas holiday that Ms 23 has just returned from.

Words associated with feelings and thoughts were added, rather than the basics of ‘I went’ and ‘I did’.

The dinner table hummed rather than shouted and I was thankful for the awareness that had dawned on me at last.

It’s not an easy road to walk; I have years of interrupting to undo.

I sat back and watched a friend recently who is a very good conversationalist and listener.

I admire her greatly and we all benefit when she is in the room.

With good posture and a calm voice, she is able to ask each one of us questions and allow the responses to come out in all sorts of rhythms.

She gently pulls us back to the original question if it was railroaded by someone, like myself perhaps, and makes sure the quiet ones get heard.

When it is her turn to answer a question, I watch her take a breath before she responds.

A micro-moment that makes all the difference. That’s next on my list.

To think and breathe before I speak.

To take a moment before I jump in.

I’m quite enjoying observing others, paying attention to their body language, listening with an open mind rather than forming my response prematurely.

Listening is not just hearing.

It requires putting your attention, your interest, and your heart in to understanding what is being said.

It’s not about staying quiet, but it is about giving others the space to speak.

It’s asking questions of others and allowing them the time to answer, seeking clarification, encouraging them to dig a little deeper.

These are worthwhile habits that we need to adopt into our lives.

Some wise words from an ancient time may encourage us on this journey.

Diogenes Laertius was a biographer of the Greek philosophers and many of his quotes are to be found scrawled in fancy fonts around town.

But one in particular stands out today: “We have two ears and only one tongue in order that we may hear more and speak less.”

It’s somewhat reassuring to know that this problem goes way back, and I mean way back.

This gentleman is from 3rd Century AD, so I can take solace in knowing I am not alone in the battle of whose words win.

The art of conversation must surely be listed as one of the finer accomplishments of this life.

Those that do it well stand out in the crowd; they make space for the quiet ones to speak up and allow those that come to conversation with agendas to stand in line and wait their turn.

Learning to listen may take me awhile; extroverts are especially known for this little hiccup, but I’m on to it now, so what was it you were saying?