Use Yer Ears!! Why we need to be better listeners.

photo: wallyg

photo: wallyg

It was another slide in the Sharon Salzberg slide show on Beliefnet that has inspired this post.  I find Sharon Salzberg’s writings so accessible and meaningful.  They are always gentle reminders of the things we know deep inside anyway.  There has been speculation that the Buddha’s last words were something along the lines of, “Be a lamp unto yourselves.”  Although there are different takes and interpretations of his last teachings, I tend to like the idea of Be a lamp unto yourselves because it is an easy reminder that the answers are within me.

Most of us know that we should be good listeners and that being a good listener requires effort and sometimes requires training ourselves out of the habit of letting our mind wander to compose our reply, our grocery lists or to discredit the speaker with silent judgment.

I recently met a new person at a conference.  She would be considered a regional library star and I approached her to ask about a program she was implementing.  She spoke for a minute and I listened very carefully because I was quite interested in her ideas.  When I replied, I shared with her some of the things I’ve been working on and thinking about.  I was excited to be sharing ideas with a colleague, brainstorming, riffing off of each other.  But, as I slid into about the 3 minute mark, I could see her wander off.  She was looking over my shoulder, giving me the death nod (yes, yes, yes, don’t really care what you’re saying) and clearly done with me.

Now, in her defense, I was not at my most articulate.  I probably rambled a bit.  But, she could have paid me a little bit of respect by showing the signs of actively listening to me.  The experience reminded me that I need to be aware of this in my own conversations.  I confess that I’d be reluctant to network with this person, though I would probably give it another go.

I’ve been thinking about this art of listening and what makes it successful and I came up with a couple of thoughts.

1.   When I feel my mind wandering, I’ve been thinking the word Listen!

2.   I also have been bringing myself back by focusing on the person’s lips moving.  It helps me.  You might find something else that helps you.

3.  I’ve been silently repeating keywords in my head.  I recently sat in on a meeting to organize a staff day.  The meeting was late in the day and I’ve been having trouble anyway with keeping focus.  As people talked, I highlighted their words: team building, inspiring, food, petting zoo, fun, laugh together.

4.  I have also had some success with some doodling while listening in groups.  One on one this would probably appear rude, so, I tend to avoid it.  I’m not sure why this works; but, for me, it does.

5.  When people come to me in my cube, I stop what I’m doing and I turn my chair to face them.  I find that even if they are to my side, it is harder to listen than when I am squared off, face to face.

Really listening is not always easy; but, the benefits are so great that we really can’t afford not to be good listeners.

Listening is vital to creating good working relationship; to helping you understand a person’s position on a certain topic; to hearing their ideas; to showing the courtesy of being present in a conversation and ultimately to your success in your job and in your personal life.

Listening is one of life’s necessary gifts.