The Art of Listening

Ever since my grandmother passed away, I’ve not blogged nor done any creative writing. She played such a big part in my life and as I go about life again, I find myself thinking, “what would Grandma Mavis have done in this situation?” Grandma had this way of making each grandchild feel like the favourite. When we talked to her, she really listened, never said I’m too busy, not now, or can we speed up the story because I have other things to do? She didn’t even look like she was thinking these things. I thought about this on the way home from work the other day when I picked up my children from school. My son was telling me about his day. I tried to mimic my grandmother’s behaviour while he told me a long, drawn out story of a fort, who was involved, who destroyed the fort, who he no longer likes and I could go on as he went on. It was the story that never ended. I was also thinking of what to cook for dinner, if I needed to do laundry, my job, my writing, and I could go on. It took every ounce of energy and focus to really listen, to listen well and empathize with my son. The more I listened, the more I realized it wasn’t a story about a fort at all. It was a story of hurt feelings and disappointment. Only then could I respond appropriately.

Active listening is an art. Too many people are jumping in to speak before we even finish what we’re saying. I’m making it my personal practice to improve, to not make any judgments about the other person, even if I think I know them like the back of my hand. Other tips include focusing on what the other person is saying but also their body language and tone of voice. Be patient if it takes a long time for them to spit it out. Clarify what they’ve said and then respond. The research says it’s an important skill. Never mind the research, it makes the other person feel great in your company. They’ll wonder why they like you so much. I know I might not get it right every time, but last night, I was listening to my daughter. I looked deeply into her eyes. I said nothing. All the things I still had to do was pushed out of my mind for that time. The world fell away. She was the only person that mattered right then. She had all my focus and I saw how much that mattered. The things that bothered her, her worries all came pouring out. It was one of those rich moments where I was present, not thinking of past nor future. It was deeply gratifying for us both. This is what life is truly about, I thought, loving, giving and listening. My grandmother was loved by many. She knew how to love, give and listen.