I have been reading the book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey. If you haven’t read it, I would highly recommend it. Some of the things I have always felt like should be common sense, but lately I feel like there isn’t much common sense left in the world, so maybe not. Each of the habits builds on the next, so it’s important to start at the beginning. But, because of this book I have been more aware of how I speak and more importantly, how I listen.
One of the things he talks about in the book is how our own story affects how we view the world. I started to look at how I projected my story on other people’s stories, or how I interject with my story sometimes without even thinking. My kids and I get talking about family experiences and the differences in perspective are sometimes quite stark. This can cause some major disagreements in our home as everyone remembers “the way it really was” just a little bit differently. It’s the same idea when we view an accident or incident. Every person is coming from the perspective of not only a different point of view because we each weren’t standing in the exact same spot, so we each saw the accident from a different angle. But we are also coming at our vantage point from our own experiences. Someone who has been in an accident will view it differently than someone who never has. Someone who knows a lot about cars will view it differently than others. People who have medical training will see different things, and pick up on differences that others may not. But each person saw the exact same thing, at the exact same time, and came away with something different. And none of the perspectives are wrong, there is value in each one.
Because we project our story into someone else’s story, we don’t listen very well. Most often we listen to reply, to share our own story, or our side of the story, or some memory that their story brought to the surface. But how often do we just listen and then just leave it there? How often do we let others have their moment. This got me thinking and wondering how often I personally listened to reply. So, at the most recent Farmer’s Market I decided to try and pay attention to my own words and behaviors.
At first it started off rough. I realized, usually as the conversation ended, that I hadn’t really listened at all to what the other person was saying. I would interject a comment here or there, try to tell my story as they were finishing up theirs, etc. Sometimes I was so focused on what was going on around me that I had a hard time concentrating on just one person talking. Once they walked away, I realized that I couldn’t even remember their whole story or why they shared it. But as I went along, I started asking questions, but then listening to the answers. Trying hard not to jump in, but to just listen. I met some wonderful people from all over the west coast as I was listening and paying attention. I learned a lot about the differences in our weather as compared to theirs, and that some people really enjoyed the heat of the day while others felt like they would melt.
Do you ever have big news, or a cool experience you want to share with someone, anyone who might listen? Maybe something you just really need to get off your chest? You’re not looking for advice, you just want to be heard. I think we all have those times, and when others start telling us their story, sometimes it can be deflating to us, we feel like maybe it wasn’t as cool or as hard or as exciting as we thought it was, even if for us, it really was cool or exciting, or new. But have you ever had that one person who just listened? That one person who asked relevant questions, who helped you feel important in that moment? How good does that feel? We can each be that person. When we listen to hear and to understand we can share in that person’s excitement, fear, joy, whatever it may be. We can be reminded of experiences we had and just relive those in our own minds and allow that person the time to be excited, to be share, to smile and laugh, or to cry when needed. When that happens we no longer walk our path alone, we have a friend to walk with.
I have discovered this to be difficult. I have tried many days since Friday, and I am at least getting the hang of noticing afterward that maybe I should have just listened. But I am grateful for the reminder, and the goal. I’m not saying that you can’t have a conversation, but when we really listen, we can clarify, we can ask applicable questions, we can be interested, we can learn from someone else. It’s not that it’s a one-sided conversation, but that each person has the ability to be heard. I will continue to work on this in my life, I hope you take time to really listen today.