We need to learn to listen. Because quite frankly, we don’t do it so well.
Now most of us can hear. And we hear a lot every day. But listening…that takes a bit more work.
When I started off in sobriety attending 12 Step meetings, I had a sponsor who told me not to talk. He did not say this to all the people he sponsored. But he said it to me.
“Paul, for the next six months, I do not want you to speak at a meeting.”
He did make a couple of exceptions, but my task for six months was to go to meetings and not talk. At first, I was a little offended at his assignment. But I started to realize why he did it.
For a big portion of my life, my mind raced all over the place. I struggled to focus on one thing. I would be thinking about multiple things at the same time or one thing would remind me of another thing that would get me thinking about another thing…
My mind never shut down. (Which is also a reason why I drank so much.)
I used to silently take pride in the fact that I could participate in multiple conversations at the same time; knowing what was being said and being able to insert appropriate comments at appropriate times.
I was great at hearing. But I never listened.
So for six months, I attended meetings and did not speak. I started to realize that as I was listening to people, I was planning my response. And it did not matter if the person was a newcomer to sobriety or had 20+ years, I was planning my response to what they said. Because let’s face it: I was the expert!
It took me about one month to figure this out. My sponsor recognized that I was not listening; I was just hearing. The words I heard were little more than a set up for me to swoop in and respond with my intelligence and wisdom.
Through this practice, I began the process of learning to listen.
Fast forward several years. As a student in a Master’s level Marriage and Family Therapy program, I learned even more the value of listening.
When clients speak, it is a lot more than their words that convey the message. It is the body language, the tone, the history behind the words, and so many other non-verbals. Listening to a client is a lot more than hearing their words.
A good helper listens.
I want to challenge you to listen. But first, I want you to find out how much you are currently listening. Over the next several days, pay attention to how you listen:
- When people talk with you, are you already formulating your response?
- How comfortable are you with being silent after someone speaks?
- Do you feel compelled to offer solutions? Even if not asked for one?
- Would you be able to restate what the person said in your own words?
- Do you make eye contact?
- Do you text or look at people other than the one speaking?
- Are you aware of your non-verbal communication? Body language?
These are just a few questions to consider as you think about how you listen to other people. Too often, we listen to respond. Or we listen because we think we have to. Or we listen because we think we have no choice.
All of those are practices of hearing; not true listening. We need to stop listening to respond. Or listening to solve. Or listening out of obligation. We must learn to listen to listen.
Let us work together to become better listeners.