Recently I was poking around in a furniture consignment shop with my daughter when a man came in and spoke to the employee. Seeing a large bench, the kind that might have been outside an old general store once, he told her, “I’m looking for a couple of benches, white, for our kitchen. My wife would like them about this length but more modern-looking.”
Wanting to be helpful, the employee asked, “So you’d like some stools?” (Now they had my attention.) “Uh, no.” Okay, what are you looking for? He repeats himself. Then she asked which color at which point I wanted to say, “he’s said ‘white’ twice, m’am.” He was more patient than I was. She continued on with questions that, had she been listening, would have been irrelevant but eventually, the man moved on, without the benches.
Oh that this were rare. I just came from an engagement where someone bemoaned to me how good listeners are in short supply. I know this is true because I teach. Those kids light up my life but goodness, they are not good listeners! But, neither are adults. Back to my friend. This person is gifted in listening skills. So much so, that whenever he’s with another, they always share their concerns and hurts. “Just one person,” he said. “I’d like just one person who would ask how I’m doing. I have things I need to talk about but everyone’s so busy telling me stuff, I get no opportunity to share my stuff.”
I could empathize because I often find myself on the same end of the conversation. Don’t get me wrong: I’ll take someone who likes to talk over someone who’s more reticent but I’d love to see a little more balance. After all, “The most basic and powerful way to connect with another person is to listen. Just listen. Perhaps the most important thing we ever give each other is our attention.” (Rachel Remen) Listening well is more than preventing the annoyance of having to repeat words. It’s paying attention to someone else. That connection with another is what so many people long for. Maybe that’s why listening is so difficult for so many. Listening requires concentration and the ability to key into non-verbals.
The Chinese symbol encapsulates what we need to do when we have opportunity to listen to another. Engage your ears, yes, but also all of you. This includes your eyes (what does their body language tell you?), your heart (what can be ‘read’ between the lines?), and give them your undivided attention (don’t scan the room looking for a distraction, don’t butt in with another topic). Of course there’s time for less serious banter but you should know when someone needs to talk, really talk.
So I’m praying that this person would find others who are as good at listening as he is and that soon, he could share his heart. Maybe he will have the courage, as I have had to on some occasions, to honestly say to another, “I need to talk” and that listener would allow him to do so. What a lovely gift to give to another – to put yourself aside for a bit and just listen. What a sweet way to give someone else your heart.