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Day 231: Learning to Listen… Again

“I know that you believe you understand what you think I said, but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.” -Robert McCloskey

Again I am facing the painful awareness of the places where I continue to fall short in my capacity to relate. The ability to communicate at home, at work, and in life is a strong barometer and predictor of our success in the relationships that matter most to us. Our relationships thrive or fall victim to our willingness and capacity to disclose and listen to the people we care for.

One of the most powerful thoughts about the core of communicating comes from an ancient Greek philosopher, Epictetus who wrote:, “We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” I am a talker; it is how I come to know myself and clarify my thoughts. I am not a listener in training, as my children generously call me. We have developed a code to help me learn to listen in the family, but I know that it sometimes hurts them, when my thoughts go too fast and I run over them with my words.

My listening deficit has long been an issue with my husband: a strong, silent type who makes his living listening to people. Even after decades with the same man, I must learn and re-learn how to listen to him. How many times has he forgiven me for the unconscious ways that I run over him with my fast-paced, fast-thinking articulation and kill the very thing I work so hard to nurture.

Today I am facing the difficult reflection of how my poor listening skill is affecting my work. Like many of us, I am often only half listening because as I am forming my next thoughts in my head I am unable to fully attend. The truth is that actively listening to anyone takes our full attention- you can’t really listen and do anything else at the same time; yet another reason to give up multi-tasking as a lifestyle… So many communication errors occur in this half-awake state. We believe that we communicate when in fact the message has not been sent or is more likely misinterpreted.

This is largely a result of a thinking error that we all share. Often, we go to our conversations with an agenda, determined and sometimes desperate to have our point of view heard and acknowledged. We rarely go into them with the open heartedness of the explorer. Curiosity and a genuine desire to understand the person you are talking to changes everything. Creating the uninterrupted space to listen is so close to being loved that in the heart of the one being heard, there is no difference.

This is skill development that needs my attention.