"Are you listening to me?"
Most of us think we're good listeners. The fact is that most of us are lousy at listening. This includes me.
"Come on now," I pleaded my case. "If I'm not a good listener, how is it that I figure out what my clients want in their homes? Not only do I have to listen carefully to what they say, I have to interpolate what they don't say. I have to extrapolate and draw-out of them their inner-most desires and feelings. Now if that's not listening, what is?"
"Exactly," my wife added after a moment of pounding silence.
I hate it when my wife's right, but her quiet carving melts patiently the stubborn thick wax of my most inner ear.
A couple of weeks ago I found myself with a few very rare extra minutes between meetings. I pulled up to Barnes and Nobel and Starbucks. I rarely get to spend time by myself in a bookstore, and felt too hurried to venture back into the art and architecture section. I stopped at the discount table just inside the door.
The first book I saw was How to Communicate by McKay, Davis and Fanning (Second Edition, 1995 New Harbinger Publishing).
"Exactly," my wife's short pointed perfect reply echoed sharply through my thickly hearing wax. I picked up the book. I opened to page eight and spent the next ten minutes learning EXACTLY how poor a listener I actually am.
What I learned is important enough to share.
For we all might be better listeners.
These are the waxes I found in my ears, paraphrasing:
You're here but you don't hear. You're too busy comparing yourself to who's talking. You're more emotionally healthy. You've suffered more. You've read more books. You're more experienced. You've had more therapy. You're smarter. When you compare you don't care.
2. MIND READING
You're too busy trying to figure out what the person is REALLY saying, what's their TRUE agenda. You're worried more about how they feel about you than you wonder about how they feel. When you try reading minds you're not mindful of trying to listen.
You're so busy crafting your comeback that the person you're talking to rarely wants to come back. Don't rehearse. Re-HEAR.
You filter out anything negative or threatening, critical or unpleasant. Don't filter the water out of the lemonade.
Making up your mind up before you listen to somebody else is like making up your bed so perfectly tight that nobody wants to climb in with you. Judge not, so that you too, will be listened to.
You're on auto-pilot. You listen, just enough, to repeat word-for-word exactly what you didn't really hear at all. Your mind is floating in its own private clouds. Don't dream away what it is to be a true friend. Listen instead to the dreams of your friend.
Identifying is all about "I". Somebody tells you they just broke up and before they can finish sharing how they feel you're off and bowling them over about how broken your heart was the last time you got dumped. Blah. Blah. Blah. No wonder. Listen with too much "I-wax" and you'll wax lonely and friendless.
You don't hear feelings. You don't hear pain. You don't hear panic. You're the world-champion; I-can-solve-your-problem-if-you'll-just try-it-my-way, guy. And yes, guys are terrible at this. Guys don't listen because guys are programmed to solve problems when all guys really need to do is understand. Take this advice; don't advise.
You acerbic, sarcastic, sadistic, satirical, sabotaging sack of soggy soap-opera shavings! You love to spar. You dig the fight. You like to win. Winning makes you feel like the big man. When you discount what you're supposed to be listening to, you discount the person who's trying to talk to you. Win the fight first by taking yourself out of the ring. Don't spar. Be sparing.
10. BEING RIGHT
OK, Mr. Know-it-all, your convictions are unshakable. You are right, always. You be the one. You be the only. Being the only is a good way to end up being the lonely. Being right all the time is impossible except for God, and you're not right all the time.
You're the king of quips. You're the jack of jokesters. You're the pud of punsters. You change tracks when you get bored or when you get the least bit uncomfortable. You derail the wonderful momentum of conversation because you're afraid of being the caboose. Don't derail the train off the perfectly parallel tracks of understanding and listening.
You want people to like you so you don't rock the boat. You half-listen and settle into indifferent drift. You float in a non-responsive dead calm. Jump out of your comfortable submarine skin and swim into the current of conversation.
We might call this the Twelve Step Program to Better Listening.
I was drunk on the idea that I was a good listener.
Most of us stumble around each other in a deaf delusional stupor, drunk on the mead of "ME".
"Gentlemen, lend me your ears."
Corny, I know but I'm on a roll.
No one really listens to anyone else, and if you try it for a while you'll see why. Mignon McLaughlin, The Second Neurotic's Notebook, 1966
Women like silent men. They think they're listening.
Marcel Achard, Quote, 4 November 1956
Home is where you can say anything you like because nobody listens to you anyway.
My wife says I never listen to her. At least I think that's what she said.
And so it shows to go you.
Are you listening?
You should be.
There's a whole wide and wonderful world outside of yourself.