So I have been trying to work on listening. Listening is very hard. I read a statistic once that we remember something like 25 to 50 percent of what we hear, yikes! If you break down the actual time of the last intimate conversation you had with a friend or worse yet, your mortgage broker or your boss, even bigger YIZERS! Anyway, I believe listening was #8 on my list of self- improvement goals a few posts back (I re-checked that, and I am proud to say I REMEMBERED that was #8, so take that future Dementia!!).
So anyway, to really really, really really really actively listen without constructing a response prematurely is challenging. Sometimes I come up with fantastic responses before I even have any clue what the person I’m conversing with is saying, and that is just not cool, not cool at all. So, I’ve been working on listening with a wide open brain, cleared, fresh of any preconceived notions in hopes to hear brand new ideas and maybe even change my mind a time or two million. Sometimes, lately, I’ve even found myself and the other person just looking at each other with a small silence after the person is done speaking. THEN I’m like, whoa, ok! Yes, I heard everything you had to say! And I have feedback for you now on every single thing you had to say. I like it very much. Plus (and I heard this in a training once), nobody will ever listen more closely to what you have to say in return than when you summarize his or her own words back to him or her…. “So what I hear you saying is….” So really, this is a win-win for everybody!
Now, I am a trained listener. I know all the important things about good solid active listening. I know how to pay attention with good eye contact and good body language positioning myself to face someone without crossing my arms and whatnot, and of course demonstrating absolute compassion. I feel the compassion, and I (usually) mean it. I know how to use good nonverbal signals like a good “hmmm hmmm” and an occasional nod and facial expression to mirror someone’s words of pain or happiness or anxiety or whatever. I know how to give a little feedback with good timing and paraphrase what someone is saying or ask for clarifying information if I need more. I know when to not speak, and I know when to assert myself with someone a little more directly and honestly and maybe even in candid ways, obviously showing the utmost respect all the while.
Now, all of the above, I am excellent at doing these things in my professional world. Well, of course, not perfect, so perhaps “excellent” should be stated more like “usually good.” An example of this would be recently when a gentleman looked at me exasperated and said, “You are just like my wife! You are sitting there acting like you’re listening to me, but you’ve zoned me out! You’re not helping me at all, this is a waste of time.” So, there are moments like this that make me sit up with better posture and examine my listening attitude. Zoning someone out is probably far worse than throwing at them a ton of “yes, buts……” or reframing what they’ve said incorrectly. Note to self.
In my private, personal space life, where I get to wear my Vans sneakers, frayed jeans, and no make-up (or maybe more make-up if I’m all snazzed up for some fun, woo!), this is where things get really tricky and murky and sometimes a little smelly and stupid. I still know all of the above things, and I even use the above skills 62 to 78 percent of the time, but sometimes it is just so absurdly hard. I would like to increase my numbers to the 90-percentile range. I say things to people who I absolutely love and adore like, “well that sucks beans” (usually with a scowl), and I can be Queen Beezwax at zoning out and implementing avoidant behavior (i.e. opposite of any remote listening “talking to the hand, man”). If I don’t feel like listening, man oh man, do I not listen. Some eves, by the time I get home, I am literally so spent, I have nothing to say, nothing to hear, no eye contact to find. But, BUT, when I do pick up that phone and talk to someone who I love and adore, and when I do talk about his or her day, it is fabulous. When I do find that human eye contact, that face-to-face connection, it is ahhhh-mazing. I always feel a little sparkle. It is so worth it! I mean seriously, I always talk to my four-legged kids when I get home. We always have a little diddy of a conversation of, “How are you, how are you??!! How are my babies! What would I do without you two!! Did you have a good day? You did? Oh yeah? What did you do? Were you good?? You are such little knuckleheads!!! Wanna a treat?? You do, you do??! Well let’s get a treat!! Yes!! Yes!!”…. So, you get the picture, and I talk to them all night basically (because that is how I roll, and I don’t plan to stop talking to my dogs by the way).
Okay, so Goal #8. What have I done? Well, I have been picking up that phone more and calling people. I love love love listening to my music to and from work, and instead, I’ve been (sometimes, not every time, but truly a lot) using this time to call people. Real live people. I know this may sound lame, but I spend a lot of time driving going from work to work, so this is golden opportunity social time for me. I have also been trying to complain less and listen more in general. I have no idea how I’m doing on this one, but I am throwing it in here to keep me honest to keep trying. I’ve also been trying to plan more things with friends and be more open to find time DURING THE WEEK. Why is this so hard anyway? This is still very much a work in progress however. Weekends, however, they are pretty stellar if I do say so myself. Yay me!
The other things I’ve been doing are things like trying to make more connection with people in just random places (kind of goes along with smiling but I think it’s fitting). This brings me to a quick story. This past week I stopped to get gas really quick on my way home at a station I like to go to in Prairie Village (Prairie Village is the kind of place that just makes a person feel a little bit richer by the way). Of course the pay at the pump feature was not working so I had to actually physically walk away from my car and GO INSIDE and prepay the cashier. The line was long (like seven people), and everyone was seemingly grouchy sporting furrowed brows. So I walked in, and it was really stupid cold outside by the way so the “long” walk was very cold. So I walked in, made a point of smiling at anyone who looked my way, and then I struck up a conversation with the cashier. I learned that he’d had a really long night with the pay at the pump feature going out hours ago, and he was really stressed and frazzled. He was working his tail off, and he had hours of work yet to go. So here I was, first being Miss Annoyed Pants at my inconvenience at my one pay at the pump malfunction, and he was dealing with like a gazillion grouchy patrons mostly in a hurry to get home and giving out little patience or gratitude. I gave him more patience than I felt and told that Mr. Cashier Man to have a wonderful eve and that I hoped his night went smoother and expedient. He at least smiled, and if I’m not mistaken, I believe another man after me was smiling and chatting it up with Mr. Cashier Man when I left.
Okay, so this is me, which brings me up to the current of today. I have had a lot on my mind recently that maybe I’ll write about next time or something close. I am thinking this should maybe be a goal to figure out extra tools to deal with “stuff” I have little control over or that’s really just “sweating the small stuff” instead of racking up extra miles on my treadmill, which I’ve been doing a lot of these past few months. Maybe “listening” to my own knees……ha, just thought about how listening applies here too! I could most definitely use some variety (that I will stick to) in my outlets for mind muck (I also love the word “muck”).
So anyway(s), it is cold outside so I think I will pour myself a cup of coffee and find my first victim who I can actively listen to today. Hopefully I will not zone anyone out. I am also attaching a few pictures from last year; really this is for no specific purpose, but the other COFFEE chickadees have all been posting such cool videos and pictures, I thought I would join in. Included here are 1) me trying to feel and listen for the presence of ghosts at Queen Anne Hotel in San Francisco (rumored to be haunted by the nicest ghost in the world by the way), and 2) me training officers on mental health (look at how excited I am to be listened to noted by my “animated” eyes!) Woo!