Recently, I walked into a coffee shop with my Littlest One, holding hands as he told me what “special” class he had each day of the week. His smile was equal parts pride for knowing his own schedule, and for having such important commitments. The man in front of me interrupted my thoughts and said, “it goes by in a blink. Hold his hand now, soon you won’t be able to. I remember when my girls were his size. It goes by so fast…”
Every parent I know has had the experience of someone with a few more years under their belt looking at their Little One and saying something nostalgic. Sometimes it is sweet. Sometimes it is invasive. Sometimes it feels like being scolded for struggling in the moment, in the eyes of a stranger with the gift of rose colored glasses.
This is not one of those posts where I stand on a soap box and say, “don’t you tell me to hold on and cherish it!! I’m doing the best I can!” I’ve read that. You’ve read that. No, that isn’t even what crossed my mind.
As I looked into this man’s face while he watched my son choose the perfect chocolate milk from the identical containers of chocolate milk, I heard something that would have been eclipsed if I had thought his comments were about me. It wasn’t about me. It’s never about me.
Before me was a person who’s 22-year old daughter is out on her own. She doesn’t need her hand to be held to cross a parking lot. She didn’t wake up in the bedroom down the hall. She doesn’t have a favorite Crayola color or get excited when she sees a giant dump truck.
He wasn’t asking for pity. He wasn’t asking for anything. He just shared, and I listened. And that was it.
We walk through life talking to other people, and yet, what we are saying has everything to do with what WE want, need and feel. And most of the times, you need the other person to zip it, so you can be heard.
Many successful leaders and entrepreneurs site listening skills as the key to their success. And Sir Richard Branson frequently references listening as one of the main factors behind the success of Virgin Atlantic. In Stephen Covey’s famous Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, we are to “seek first to understand, then be understood.”
Listening creates an atmosphere of problem-solving, connection and understanding. Listening is one of the few actions we can take to influence our relationships so profoundly.
As a manager, what would the benefit be to you to have a listening policy, rather than a grievance resolution apology? As a patient, how valuable would it be to have a doctor who listens to your words, and your body, before prescribing? As a parent, can you listen to your children without making suggestions or taking on the problem as your own?
No one ever says, thanks for talking over me! Thank you for your suggestions and assuming I can’t figure this out! Never.
When you sense that someone needs you to listen, here are a few reminders to help you show up as a great listener:
- Keep your ego in check and remember that this isn’t about you.
- Quiet your mind and focus on what is said and unsaid.
- Reserve judgment and stay open to what is unfolding.
- Your (few, if any) questions should focus on understanding, not driving towards your answers.
By turning down the narrative in your head, you can listen to what the other person is trying to communicate.
Chances are that in at least one relationship in your life, you could improve your understanding and deepen your connection if you would zip it and embrace listening.
That is what I love about my work. I have the privilege to support people as they explore and work out big problems and to deeply listen for what is said, and unsaid.
“Being listened to is so close to being loved that most people cannot tell the difference.”
– David Oxberg