We have two ears and one mouth – respect that ratio!
“Dear Friend, how to say this nicely? You have horrible listening skills! From the get go, you ramble on and on about what’s going on in your life with barely a pause to breathe. Oh sure, you finally get around to ask me how I’m doing, only to quickly derail my answer and return to your personal drama. It was fun (?) to see you again but, quite frankly, you don’t listen or seem to care at all what I have to say.”
How many friends and/or family members would you love to leave this message on their voicemail? Several, I suspect, but the irony is they probably wouldn’t listen to that either!
Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”
Listening has become a lost art. Sure, it always has been with self-absorbed, pompous people. But now, in our modern world of multitasking and social media, it seems to have exacerbated to epidemic levels. The greatest tragedy of all is that it has become socially acceptable and the norm. One-sided conversations are omnipresent – at work, the coffeehouse, over dinner – with the recipient’s head buried in a smartphone. But the bigger concern in our connected modern world is the increasingly lack of ability to focus, a new outbreak of Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). We are so addicted to constant stimuli that we can no longer sit still. So even if you can get your friend to miraculously leave their iPhone at home, the challenge to be heard still often exists as they have lost the artful skill of concentration. A back to basics approach with a sense of Mindfulness – being present in the moment – would do wonders for many of our relationships.
To listen is to pay attention, take an interest, care about, take to heart, validate, acknowledge, be moved, be touched and/or just appreciate the words coming out of the mouth of your friend. Is that so hard? Apparently so, if you are still reading this while simultaneously nodding your head with the image of your friend(s) you feel has their own agenda or lack of empathy and compassion. But, to be fair, it’s also a skill that needs to be constantly honed as many friends do truly care but simply lost the ability to pay attention. They may sincerely not be aware of their lackluster listening skills or the fact that you are at your wits end to deal with this crisis.
The natural path towards resolution is to confront your friend head on and essentially speak your mind (refer to opening paragraph above) . This method has repeatedly backfired on me, as I’ve quickly discovered people’s level of sensitivity and defensive posture towards this matter. So, my apologies if you were looking for a quick fix solution (sorry, go to oprah.com for better self help advice!). But I am experimenting with a different approach, one that takes patience and resolve, with mildly successful results. It’s the simple notion of being who you want them to be. Lead by example. Walk the talk. Immerse yourself in the conversation with 100% of your focus and attention. Sit still. Pure mindfulness. Present moment awareness. It’s not easy, to be sure, but living in the moment and treating your friend like he/she is the absolute most important thing going in your life can have a profound effect. It doesn’t happen immediately, and perhaps never will with some, but many of my friends finally take notice and ultimately reciprocate because it’s so disarming. Friends are often a reflection of self so it naturally follows they may come to emulate positive habits. Do I have survey statistics or focus groups to back up this theory? No, but I can confirm with total confidence a ZERO batting average if you never take a swing at the plate. Give it a try and, if all else fails, feel free to leave that voicemail.