Listen Completely

“When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.”
― Ernest Hemingway

“Graaanddaaaddy, Mother says you’re a reeal cowboy. Is that truue?” The words are mine, but the voice is one of so long ago that I hardly recognize that little girl with the thick southern drawl. Listening to the tape made long before we could Facetime or easily send a video clip, I am reminded of how important it is to listen to what people say. My grandfather replied that he was, indeed, a real cowboy and sang a few cowboy tunes to prove it. There is a lot going on in the world today, but taking time to listen, especially to meaningful voices, needs to happen more. Stop everything (multitasking isn’t all it’s cracked up to be) and listen. Hemingway was right — most people never listen.

Listening seems to be a problem in a lot of places, and not just when there are two people sitting in a room together. “I’d like water without ice, please.” 8 times out of 10 my water is served with ice, and it is because many times the server in a restaurant isn’t really listening to me. They hear ‘water’, but the rest is just noise. The lack of listening is a game-changer for me. Everywhere we go, people are preoccupied and they are catching only a part of what we say. How is the lack of listening impacting relationships? For the best answer, ask yourself — how do you feel when you’ve been talking and the other person has no idea how to respond because they were preoccupied?

Listening involves a little effort, whether it is in day-to-day conversations, in a board meeting, or in a classroom. When your child/spouse/friend comes in to tell you all the things they did that day, your challenge is to put down the cell phone, turn off the television, and listen completely. Are you up for the challenge? Look them in the eye, and listen to their tales. If you need to finish what you are doing, tell them to give you two minutes to finish so they can have your undivided attention, but don’t listen half-way. Just don’t. Be honest with a person when they’ve caught you at a bad time. It is always less painful to be asked to wait a minute than to realize someone is totally uninterested and unengaged in what you are saying.

There are many ways we can practice better listening skills, but there is one I hope you’ll begin thinking about right now. The day after Thanksgiving is known as Black Friday for shoppers, but it’s also a key day to listen — The National Day of Listening — and it is promoted by a company called StoryCorps. This National Day of Listening began in 2008 as a way to bring people together to share stories, and with Thanksgiving being a day of togetherness, it makes sense.

  • Use a cell phone or audio recorder, or just pen and paper if that’s all you have.
  • If you don’t have a family member who interests you (it’s a possibility), consider visiting a local retirement home and offering to help them create a library of stories.
  • Another option, as hard as it is to think about, is to capture the words of family or friends who are terminally ill. The questions you might ask a person, young, old, ill, healthy, friend, family, or stranger are not so different.
    • What was the happiest moment in your life?
    • Who has been the kindest to you in your life?
    • When have you felt most alone in life?
    • How would you like to be remembered?

Possible questions can be found at the StoryCorps site. In the meantime, be sure you look people in the eye when you speak for your best chance at being heard and when you listen so you will hear. Accept the challenge from Hemingway and Steen: Listen Completely.

                               Photo taken at Looseleaf Hollow, Bardstown, Kentucky

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