I am a mom of three children under the age of 10, so I’ve seen pretty much every animated movie created. Ever. My very favorite is The Lego Movie, though, and not solely because it’s got great animation, witty dialogue, and touching moments. Those are all great components, but it’s actually my favorite because of one tiny little line tucked into one tiny little scene that you’ll miss if you blink. This line is dreadfully funny, but it also hurts just a bit because, at least for me, it’s so true. It speaks directly to a problem we all have, every single one of us. And it’s poignant because in just a few sentences it tells the story of our modern day approach to one very important thing: listening.
“I think I got it. But just in case… tell me the whole thing again, I wasn’t listening,” he says. (See below.)
Listening, oh you sly devil, you. I preach your value to my children on a daily basis, yet my middle name could easily be “huh?” It infuriates me when my children do not listen to me, and it drives me crazy when I realize halfway through the conversation that my husband’s attention has flown the coop. And yet, I’m just as likely to do the same thing to them at any given time of the day… And not even realize it.
We all know how critical listening is. It shows others that we value them; that what they are saying is important; that they are a priority in our lives. But life is so busy, and we are quickly distracted. With constant stimuli invading our lives, it’s hard to give our children, our man, and our friends the attention they deserve.
But we can get better. Listening skills are just that: skills. Like any skill, if we practice, we’ll improve.
I did some research and found 5 things to concentrate on in order to become a better listener:
1. Put your phone away.
Oh, this seems so simple and, well, obvious. But how many times do we find ourselves going down a Facebook wormhole while our child is recounting a riveting tale of what happened during a particularly intense game of recess tag? More often than we’d like to admit. If you want to listen to someone, put your phone down. If it’s too tempting, put it away entirely. Facebook will always be there; the chance for a relationship-building conversation—it just won’t.
2. Give eye contact.
When you truly pay attention to something, you generally use more than one of your senses to hone in on your subject. Listening is no exception. Listening is not merely hearing, and when you incorporate eye contact, it heightens concentration on the conversation. We’re not encouraging creepy, unblinking stares here, but genuine, inquisitive eye contact.
3. Summarize before responding, or at least listen as if you will.
Active listening is a technique often used in therapy to help couples navigate particularly rough conversations. It involves checking in and summarizing what your partner said before responding, to make sure that you’ve got the story right. In order to summarize what the other person has said, you must listen well. Now it’s not always appropriate to do this, say, in a quick conversation with a six-year-old. But, if you listen as if you have to, you will be much more likely to pay close attention to the words, their meaning, and the emotion behind them.
4. Stop responding in your head.
We all do it. We all listen halfway, think of a witty comeback, and then sit in impatience waiting for the perfect moment to inject the conversation with our brilliance. Stop. Just listen. Your response, if it’s really that good, will come back to you. But the words that your child was saying, they may not.
5. Remember that you care.
This may be the most important one of all. Remember that you care for the person you are speaking with more than whatever distraction is pulling you away. Recognize that you’ll never get these moments back; they’re so fleeting. If they are choosing to share this story, this thought, or this feeling with you of all people at this very moment, it’s for a reason. And it’s important to them. Caring makes listening an act of love, not a chore. So be quick to listen and slow to speak.
We bet you’ll love this episode of our podcast, This Grit and Grace Life: Great Friends: 9 Qualities to Be One and Find One – 031
You’ll also like Put on Your Big Girl Panties and Get to Work (On Yourself), What Your Grieving Friend Really Wants You to Know, How to Channel Both Mary and Martha When Hosting People, What Being Best Friends With an Introvert Has Taught Me, 12 Tips on Holding Your Ground with Grit and Grace, and Establishing Healthy Boundaries in the Grit and Grace Life