The art of listening
I once had a friend call me up late one night just as I was about to turn out the lights. I contemplated not answering, as I knew it would re-energize me and I’d had a super long day, but I had a missed call from her earlier, so I picked up.
After some chit-chat, she began to tell me about an incident with her boss that day. As she went into specific detail about the story I just (literally) sat back and listened. She legit spoke for about five straight minutes without me uttering a word.
I had attended a Buddhist lecture earlier in the evening. I think my exhaustion coupled with the very Zen feeling I had post-lecture put me in some sort of meditative state where I was able to be present and hear her without the need to interrupt or interject.
When she finally paused and asked, “What do you think?” I was able to offer my advice in a clear and thoughtful way. Now we are both chatty Maria's, my friend and I. A conversation between us usually sounds like two squawking chickens both vying to get a word in. But last night was different. I listened, then she did.
Rather than the usual “Yeah, your boss sucks,” I brought up the possibility that her boss actually had a point, it was just delivered poorly. I then suggested that the poor woman was tired, having just returned from maternity leave, and undoubtedly that affected her mood and communication skills.
We concluded that her was boss was in fact just plain tired and probably conflicted about leaving her new baby, so my friend planned to go to work early and help make her boss’s life a little easier, for both their sakes. We both felt good about this resolution, and I think something actually changed in our relationship.
We HEARD each other.
In this crazy busy self-absorbed life we all lead, listening falls by the wayside. The other day I spoke with my sister on the phone, and after talking for a long while she said, “You know, you just talked about yourself for 20 minutes. You haven’t once asked about me.”
Damn, I hadn’t.
I have another friend whom I love, but who cannot have a face-to-face conversation without simultaneously checking her phone. It’s infuriating, it’s rude, and it kinda says “I don’t care what you have to say. It’s not important to me.”
Cultivating this art of listening will help you profoundly in ways big and small, from paying attention to your body when it says it's full, to giving thoughtful attention to kids and partners, to finally having the courage to leave a job or relationship.
Listening brings us to the moment at hand. It takes us out of our own heads (and egos) and makes us present to what’s there in front of us. And what’s there in front of us is life, and it’s whispering to us everything we need to know, we just have to hear it.
It’s saying: “I love you, I love you, I love you.”