I’d like to think that I’m a great communicator but too often I’ve caught myself not listening. For example:
I’m in a meeting and appear to be listening. At first, I’m tuned in but then I fade out. My head is filled with noise. Something you say sparks an idea and I’m gone. I’m looking at you, maybe even nodding but my mind has taken a detour. To make matters worse, I might interrupt, spilling my idea, ignoring yours. I’m rude. I don’t mean to be, it’s just that my idea is important…to me. I want to get it out. But in the process I’m telling you that you’re secondary. Sorry.
At home with my children, I appear to be listening but I’m multi-tasking. I’m watching TV, barely hearing my son. Or I’m on the computer; did you say something? You try to get my attention but I’m distracted so you try again…and again. I don’t make eye contact. I might not even look at you, but I tell everyone you’re the most important thing in the world to me. Sorry.
To make matters worse, when I’m fully present, I often listen to respond. I’ve probably been there, done that, so I think I have the best advice. The thing is, you’re not me. Your situation is uniquely yours. I should listen to understand. I should support you, not try to fix you. But that takes work.
Listening is work. It’s the work of respect, friendship, and love. Without it, we can’t communicate effectively. So I’m working at it because I value you. I’m working at it because you are important.
Do you ever catch yourself not listening?