Have you ever just listened to someone? I used to think I was a great listener; I loved to give advice and prided myself on being able to glean the gist of someone’s issues from a simple chat with them, and then I would try to help them work past whatever problem they were facing. It wasn’t until my communication class freshman year that I realized I wasn’t actually listening. And since school has started back up for most of us, I’ve decided to do a little educating, reminding myself to put into practice some previously acquired skills and, perhaps, help you learn a new skill for yourself.
Most of the time I just zoned out in the class during the two hour slideshow that myself and my classmates endured every Tuesday that semester. I had a difficult time understanding the point of the awkward pairing-off for the even more mortifying question and answer time that our instructor thought would really get us to open up. Mostly, it just kept us from making eye-contact with our fellow classmates. I think it goes without saying—but I’ll say it anyway! Don’t you just hate that?—but Tuesdays were my least favorite day of the week for about a year. Anyway, we finally arrived at the chapter all about listening, and I was sure it was going to be a breeze, because I loved to listen. But then I discovered that it wasn’t just about letting someone talk about themselves for five seconds before I burst in with positive affirmations about how great they are and what they’re worth, or quickly fill in what they are going to say when they can’t seem to find the words. I am a fixer by nature, and even though I meant well, I realized that being a great listener was hardly about fixing people the moment a problem arose. Sometimes people just need someone to really listen without saying a word.
I practiced this newfound “skill” on my friends and family, learning to pay attention to what they said when they spoke, but also pay attention to what they were saying when they remained silent. I learned to shut my mouth (which can be difficult for me when I’m trying to make things right), and I improved at making sure my body language told them I was interested in and paying attention to what they had to say. I discovered more about their thoughts and feelings in that week than I had in years of living with them. And I didn’t just test this newfound “gift” out on those closest to me; I brought my listening ear with me wherever I went. I was amazed and a little hesitant to lend such a listening ear when a store clerk I had never seen before talked about her dying mother and the broken relationship they had. Then there was a random student in my literature class whom I had never talked to before—except to smile and say hello to that morning—who walked with me to my next class and told me about the awful relationship that she had with her parents and brother. My eighteen-year-old self was at a loss for words—impossible!—but then I realized that it wasn’t my words they needed. What they wanted most was just someone to listen.
Challenge of the week: Spend the next seven days really listening; don’t do the talking for them. Remember, “silent” and “listen” are both spelled with the same letters. If anything, that class taught me to just remain silent and wait until someone is ready to talk; when they’re ready, they will. And in other instances, they just need to know that a friend is there with them in the silence, as well as the noise of life.
“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.”
Don’t forget to check out my interview on growing up as a homeschooler at http://www.homeschool.com/adventures/article.asp?title=Homeschooler+has+a+debut+novel!&p=3157 and keep entering to win Nexus Seven Tablet. The link is just below the “Rising Shadows” page. Good luck!