Over the last few years, I’ve been focusing on listening a lot more than speaking. That might sound funny coming from a writer, but what I mean is that I’m practicing the art of absorbing information and reflecting on it more than answering the impulse of wading in on every topic, thought or opinion expressed. I’m not always good at it, but at least I’m more aware of my impulsive need to jump in and I’m trying to improve.
And one way I’m working on improving my listening skills is through reading.
Reading is the best way I’ve found to learn to keep my mouth shut and allow myself to absorb the information someone else is putting out into the world. Through reading, I’m learning more about the need to give someone room to fully explore a thought, make a point or sell me on a different or contrarian point of view.
Following an author’s thought process is a good reminder that most things worth knowing and understanding often require a deeper dive. And that can’t happen if we don’t:
- give it our full attention,
- take the time to absorb the information as we read it and
- reflect on what we’ve read.
Unlike books, our family, friends, colleagues, acquaintances, strangers, and any one else for that matter, offers the potential for a two-way conversation. By listening to what others have to say, we can ask mindful questions to know more or to help them clarify their toughts as we reiterate what we think they’re trying to say. This type of listening—active listening—can lead to conversations that leave both parties better off for having had them.
We don’t have to default to the “me too” type of conversation (my old go-to default). As much as we want to relate, it can serve to shut down the person who’s willing to share a part of who they are deep down, willing to be vulnerable enough to share a part of themselves that’s often more guarded—including thoughts and opinions that aren't mainstream.
Ideas and thoughts don’t expire when they really matter to us. There’s always room to debate and relate after the other party(ies) have fully shared their thesis, unincumbered by unnecessary interruptions.
We all have insights to share that are based on our unique experience in this world, our personal life experience. And one of the ways to be able to share these insights is to allow others to fully share theirs.
We don’t need to leave it to authors to help us take a deeper dive into the human condition. It’s all around us. We just need to listen.