Are you a good listener? I think most of us would answer with a resounding “yes!” But are we? What does it even mean to be a “good listener” as an adult?
Think back to when you were in elementary school. Back then, being a good listener meant keeping your mouth shut and your ears open, sitting still, and not interrupting. I always thought I was a good listener. I mean, my teachers always said I was! It wasn’t until I became a mom that I realized maybe I wasn’t as good at listening as I thought. As an adult listener, we’ve got to do more than just quietly receive words while nodding occasionally. Listening is a true skill and like any other skill, we must hone it.
In order to honestly grade our listening skills, we must first ask ourselves a few questions:
Are we in the moment with the speaker, or is our mind somewhere else?
For example, when I’m at a restaurant with my family and one of them is telling a story, if I’m not looking right at their face, you can bet I’m not listening. I’m looking around. I’m thinking, What are they eating over there? Yum, looks good. Oh, that lady’s hair is fabulous. And pretty soon I hear, “Mama, are you listening?” No. I was hearing, not listening. Being easily distracted is my biggest struggle as a listener. I must be intentional with my focus if I want my kids to know that I really do care about what they have to say and how they feel.
Do we listen to understand or do we listen just so we can respond?
We can also get distracted by our inner monologue. Sometimes when I’m listening to someone, I catch myself thinking about what I’m going to say in response. I impatiently wait for them to stop talking so I can jump in. Newsflash to me: this is not listening! I’ve had to work on the art of pausing. I learned this from my brother, Rodney. When I tell him about a problem I have, he never jumps right into the conversation. He pauses while thinking about what I just told him, and then he asks me if I want his advice.
Do we ask what kind of response the speaker is seeking?
Those who are in need of a listener aren’t always in need of an advisor. I love it when my brother asks me if I want his advice. Sometimes I actually do – he’s quite wise as far as big brothers go! However, sometimes, I don’t care what he thinks. I just want to vent. I hope he’ll just listen, give me a hug, and maybe say, “gee, that stinks.” To be a good listener, we have to be okay with not saying anything back.
Am I a good listener? Well, I’m getting there! If I can keep focusing my attention, practicing the pause, and remembering that silence really can be golden, I will eventually become a fantastic listener. But the true test will be when my kids get older, and someone asks them if their mother truly listened to them. I hope they say yes.
Molly Woodman, Outreach Coordinator for The Kim Foundation