Four Ways to Be Better Listeners for a Kinder World
When I was a little girl I remember my mom driving me and my grandmother to visit my great-aunt in Brooklyn. The three of us would sit for hours with my great-aunt, chatting and giggling like school girls. I didn’t know it then but those were magical times.
They’d reminisce about cherished family stories and I loved hearing them. This was our family history and they were proud to regale me with these golden treasures.
The art of listening
When I think of it now I realize the storyteller was never interrupted. That may sound silly but think about it. Interrupting or not listening when someone is speaking is bad etiquette. This was the 1960’s before technology kicked manners into oblivion, and the art of listening was a skill learned from birth. There were no distractions from cell phones or the urgent need for a selfie to interrupt a conversation.
Life seemed more respectful back then no matter how many hours someone worked or went to school. Free time was devoted to living in the moment, and kindness and compassion were important.
Modern conversations on social media
As I peruse the pages of social media where modern conversations take place, I sometimes notice the absence of proper listening skills. For example, someone starts a thread looking for help with unexplained health symptoms. The comments range from helpful and well-meaning to narcissistic and spammy. Another author talks about their grief and comments range from condolences to sharing their own story of grief without acknowledging the author’s heartache.
What happened to the art of listening? Why do people talk over others? Why do some give unsubstantiated advice? Why can’t we listen to one another?
I could chalk it up to human nature but that’s only partially correct. I think it's more than that. Our world is so fast paced that we’re looking for ways to hear our voice above the crowd. Attention spans have dwindled. We don’t have time to stop and listen. It’s easy to get the information we need in a flash. Google can solve all our problems.
The beauty of humanity is in stories
Here’s the rub: We need to listen because that’s where the treasure truly lies. The beauty of humanity is in our stories. The beauty of humanity is also in our responses. Our world is disjointed and we need to make repairs by helping the other guy. Listen, learn and reach out. Compassion, kindness and the Golden Rule are always in style.
Showing respect for someone’s needs is crucial in helping others. It shows that you care and helps the person feel less overwhelmed and embarrassed. It's not always easy to ask a difficult question. Remember that before commenting.
Talk less, listen more
Hear what the person has to say. Stay focused. Walk in their shoes. Reserve your comments until they are through. Be that person they can depend on.
You might not always agree with the speaker but look at the problem from their point of view. Be smart and don’t assume what they are saying is the absolute truth. Gently challenge them with a question or two. Offer advice based on evidence, not hearsay.
The time to tell your story or ask your questions should not be in response to someone else’s. Be gentle and kind when someone has a problem. Use another point in time to ask your questions. You’ll be glad you did.
The old song that said we’ve got the whole world in our hands is still true. We do hold it in our hands. By listening and helping each other in a kind and caring way we are creating the kind of world we all want to see. One where we have time to sit and chat, laugh and cry, hear and respond accordingly. Let's all resolve our issues in harmony.
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