If you want to be a good friend, listen completely.
“I never learned anything while I was talking.” —Larry King
It’s one of my favorite quotes of all time and something I strive to remember, each and every day.
Every person has a story to tell. A thought. A bit of advice. Every person and every child is important. Let them know that by truly listening to them.
Hashem gave us two ears which don’t close…and one mouth, that does close. Must be for a reason.
We are losing our listening. We are wrapped up in an overstimulated environment, where everything moves faster than fast. We don’t need to listen anymore because if we forget something, Google will always be there to bail us out. Listening to directions? Nah. There’s Waze for that. Phone numbers? Definitely not. Besides, there is so much buzz in our brains, and we are so good at multi-tasking, if we listen with 30% of our capacity, it’s good enough, right?
Does this sound familiar at all? I know it does for me. We are so desensitized that for us to fully listen, it needs to be tragic, alarming and incredibly awful. Just think how you remember all the details of your neighbors scary story she told you last week, yet you cannot remember anything about the details she shared on her sister’s upcoming simcha.
On a personal level, here is a little story that told me it is time to re-calibrate my listening skills: This winter, I signed up to a parenting class over the phone. I love the fact that the classes get recorded and I can listen to them again and again, whenever I want to. There was one particular class that I enjoyed very much, and I listened to it 4 times. The fourth time, I heard something “new.” There was a great tip, one I am convinced I hadn’t heard before. I know I didn’t. Yet, I knew, that was impossible. It was the same shiur. It was there all along. It must have been that I simply missed it the first 3 times. I am always multitasking while listening to this shiur, whether washing dishes or putting away toys. This incident taught me a lot about my listening. Apparently, I wasn’t listening to my fullest, even when I was sure I was.
Thankfully, listening is a skill that can be improved. Let’s focus on how to listen to someone who is talking/sharing with you:
STEP 1 SILENCE. Resist the urge to talk, at all costs. Only listen. Listen with your eyes, your body, and your heart. Look at the person. Relax and be patient.
STEP 2 RECEIVE. Pay attention to what they say. No matter how boring (your daughter is telling you a looooong story about what happened in 2nd grade today. It is important to her, yet very boring. Pay attention and receive.)
STEP 3 APPRECIATE. Make little noises that tell the person talking that you are there with them and following (uh huh, oh, mmm…), nod, or tilt your head. But, only little noises. No words. Resist the urge to interrupt.
STEP 4 SUMMARIZE. “So, this is how…” “So, what was it…” This will show your friend you truly listened
STEP 5 ASK. Only now you can ask any questions you might have.
These are the 5 steps of listening. Have you noticed none of them are “offering advice?” or better yet “telling your own story/personal experience?”
Observe a group of women schmoozing. You will immediately notice how everyone is waiting for their turn to just say their story. Is anyone listening? Very few are.
Being a good listener means being a good friend, a good mother, a good wife. When we listen we truly show we care. Taking it a step further, here are a few tips that help me be a better listener:
• This one applies to those with small children: When listening to my child, I will try, when possible, to get down on one knee and face him or her at eye level. Eye contact is so very important and it helps me concentrate on what my child is telling me. It also helps me stay focused and undistracted. I try to think of how hard it must be for children to look up to us from down below, all day. Bending down shows them that we are available and present.
• For an older child: If my child is telling me something of importance I will try to hold his or her hand or shoulder, for the same reasons as above (staying focused, etc.) even if for only a few seconds.
• When someone tells me about something that is coming up (for example: “my Dina is having her tonsils removed on March 3rd) I will take advantage of technology and set up a reminder for that day on my phone’s calendar. That way, I will be reminded to ask her “How did the surgery go?” You will be surprised how much people appreciate your remembering. And no, you do not need to send flowers. Just remembering is enough.
• When you are in a conversation (with one friend or with multiple friends) and somebody recounts something that happened to her, resist the urge to tell your story, about how perhaps, that happened to you as well. Try it. The urge will fade away, after a few minutes. Listen to your friend and let her shine in the moment. Do not dilute the importance of her story, with your experience.
• When you listen properly, you do not need to offer anything more than just your ears. No advice is necessary. Just your listening is enough. People actually pay, nowadays, for that. Those listeners are called “therapists.” They mostly, only, listen.
You can be a great friend, if you apply your ears and your heart, to listen fully.