It doesn’t seem that hard to figure out, but it’s often difficult to learn how to listen with real intent. Why? Because our modern lives have swallowed up the time to care about the details of caring; the time needed to think beyond ourselves and to listen intently and not just talk. I’m afraid the hamster wheel we have put ourselves on is getting the best of us.
I was recently listening to a presentation given to my associate and myself by a very passionate presenter. After 45 minutes of nonstop fast talking, this person finally came up for air and asked for our thoughts. We gave a sentence or two in response before being cut off, and the cycle continued. On the way to our car afterward, my associate said, “Note: how not to give a presentation.” And without judging the message — which was great — the messenger didn’t allow for a dialogue and didn’t listen with real intent to our feedback. Our own thoughts felt minimized regardless of the message presented.
In our present world of challenges with racial injustice, COVID-19, the economy, and unrest, so many voices are heaping with megaphones their views, shouting above any semblance of a helpful conversation.
It may sound odd, but I often talk to my herd of cows, and while I sometimes wish they could speak in my own language, I’m very appreciative that they listen — at least I believe they do. As I talk to them, an occasional nod or cow moan tells me they are very understanding of whatever I’m talking about. How I wish I could transfer this type of dialogue to my human friends.
Sometimes the key to listening is to make a nonjudgmental comment after the speaker has completed their thought, and then say nothing. Listen with empathy and understanding without trying to formulate a response or solution while the speaker is sharing. Often, the best thing for me to say in response is “Wow — what you are experiencing is significant” (like the cow nodding and moaning back to me). Often it is not required of us to find answers or solutions. We simply don’t know everything, and it’s OK to know and express that. Listening provides a wonderful form of healing; in fact, it is usually the beginning of healing.
So much of our lives these days are lived in haste. We live in a rush of activity, reaching for our devices anytime they ping us — and our response must be instantaneous — or, so we think. My son-in-law and daughter and their two boys stopped by for lunch recently. While we were eating, my son-in-law was being pinged and he constantly picked up his phone. I said “Andrew, I bet if you enjoyed the lunch with us and didn’t respond instantly to every ping, those issues will still be there in 30 minutes.” I wasn’t judging, but there is no way he could “listen in” to our family conversations and be present. I remember when if we weren’t available for a phone call, we weren’t available. Now, we are inclined to text a message such as “Can I call you later?” The haste we live in, I believe, is a factor in anxiety and depression. Why? Because the practices we have adopted have caused us to rush to solutions without actually listening first.
So, I have three points to consider. Are you listening? Good.
Listen Without Haste
I have a grandson who has a very hard time expressing the thoughts in his head and heart. True, he is only 5½ years old — but still. To get the meaning of his head and heart requires me to sit beside him and listen intently as he struggles to impart his message. If I don’t take the time, he stops trying to communicate and is very frustrated. Regardless of our age, when those listening don’t do so with heart and intent, the effect is the same. This is an important consideration, especially when communicating with those who are struggling, have anxiety or are showing signs of depression.
Schedule Enough Time
If you are making time to listen, make every effort to allow for enough time. Creating extra time in scheduling allows for the unknown. Having to look at the clock in the midst of listening tells the person sharing that what they have to say isn’t so important after all.
Don’t Formulate a Response While Listening
This is very difficult to do in our split-second world where we are searching for the perfect “sound bite” response. Listen with empathy with the idea that you don’t have to formulate an instant solution. Just listen intently first. Much has been written about being “present” in dialogue — to live in the moment. Perhaps listening is the first step to being present. If we have a heart to really listen, then we offer up a healing that is powerful medicine. It requires not living in haste or looking beyond the moment. The art of listening to others without haste can be a significant factor in easing their anxiety and depression — if we take the time to do it. And if all else fails, give me a call and we can arrange for you to join me and my herd for a little cow talk.
Steve Hitz is a co-founder of Launching Leaders Worldwide www.llworldwide.org, a nonprofit organization that empowers young adults with personal leadership and faith. The Launching Leaders course is free on the BYU Independent Study website (scroll to the bottom). Steve is the author Launching Leaders: An Empowering Journey for a New Generation, and Entrepreneurial Foundations for Twenty and Thirty-Somethings, available at Deseret Book or Amazon.