Listening. Something we do, or at least think we do, everyday in order to move about our lives. But what does it really mean to listen? Our world is full of distractions. Many of them are small enough to hold in the palm of our hands. How do we maintain a good listening protocol?
I recently had the opportunity to attend a university book club discussion. The discussion was based around the reader’s assessment of Becoming Mrs. Smith, my recent historical fiction title. I understood that book club members would be interested in hearing from me about how the book came to be. They also sought out insight into characters, settings, and such. Open to answering their questions as best as I could, the hours went by quickly. The most interesting thing I took away from the meeting though, was a further understanding of my own listening skills.
I have always been an active listener. My head nods up and down when I am engaged in deep conversation. Even at a workshop, if a speaker is particularly insightful, my heads bobs along. The awareness of my head movement exists simply because it often draws the attention of the speaker at the front of a room. I am not certain if my active listening is helpful to the speaker or not. I do know that it is a cue to myself to be aware of what is being presented. On some level, my heart and mind are interested.
I listened as the book club members provided me with deep insight into what I was doing right and where I could improve when it came to crafting a story. I was delighted as they quoted back to me my own words. In that moment, I knew that my story had struck a chord. It had resonated with them so deeply that my words had become their own. It was quite literally a highlight for me as an author.
Listening though can be a bit elusive. This is the aspect of the art that I would like to share with you. It is far easier to go into an arranged conversation knowing that you are there to listen. It is thus much more challenging to be a good listener in an ordinary chat with your significant other. In the same week that I was patting myself on the back for listening so well to the book club, I found myself in a situation where I struggled to listen to my own husband.
Ah, the art of listening. Perhaps there is more to it than meets the eye. Being a good listener doesn’t mean that we only listen when the speaker is saying things we are open to hearing. It also means that we must hear those things that are not always welcomed into our ears and hearts. If I find myself thinking about my responses while someone else is talking, than I have to question if I am truly listening.
If I am distracted by the surroundings, my phone, the dinner dishes, am I listening? What if I am unwilling to hear what another person is saying because I disagree, am I listening? Then there is the chance that my emotional walls are up, for whatever reason, am I listening then? I accept that every conversation can’t be about looking one another in the eye and providing our full attention. How then can we improve our ability to listen to those we care about?
What I learned was if someone you care about is doing everything in their power to get your attention, take that as a cue to listen with intent. Often times the best lessons cause us at least some kind of discomfort and I am no different. There I was, uncomfortable. I was angry (I know it is hard to believe, but truly I was). Even some self pity reared it’s little head. And yes, I was having a tantrum (an adult one, but come on, it was still a tantrum).
None of it displayed my best side. But all of it eventually, forced me find some quiet time to reflect. Upon reflection, I was able to see through my husband’s words. I was able to reach the heart of what he was trying to tell me. He wasn’t being spiteful, like my ego brain was trying to convince me. He was being a loving husband who wanted what was best for me. If I had listened with an open heart sooner, I could have saved myself significant discomfort.
That right there is the key to the art of listening. Open your heart and listen with your ears, eyes, and your heart. I promise you, you’ll hear things loud and clear when you master the art of listening well.
Wouldn’t it be grand if one person’s learning could alter another’s ability to avoid experiencing the same pain for themselves? This is my hope in sharing this story with you. Love deeply and listen well to one another, for we all have something important to share.
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