Listen Up!

March 15, 2013

At a recent coach training I attended in New York, I was impacted greatly by a quote from Stephen Covey.  He said, “Most people listen with the intent to respond, rather than the intent to understand.”  Wow!  How true is that!  It had such a profound impact on me and as I pondered it.

I thought about this quote for days and weeks after.  I realized just what a wonderful and important gift our listening was to others.  Although I listen to people for a living, I felt compelled to ask myself some tough questions. I wanted to make sure that I was doing all I could to be totally present with each person I listened to and to not allow any distractions to get in the way.  I wanted to be sure that every person who spoke to me felt not just heard, but understood.  That is important to me.

Do you know what I discovered?  That I listen best to those I don’t live with.  I realized that, in the course of being a wife, mother, taxi driver, homework helper, dinner preparer and all those other roles, I traded efficiency for understanding.  Ouch!  That hurt!  Hurt as it did, it was true.  And I was the only one who could change it.

I was a great listener and understander to those I coached and ministered to, but when it came to my family, I often put understanding aside for the greater “good” of efficiency.   Boy, did I have it all wrong!

In the course of any given day, we listen to ten, twenty or even one hundred people, depending on our occupation.  Perhaps we need to ask ourselves if we are really listening to them at all?  Or are we formulating our response to them even as they speak?  If that’s the case, then we are not focused on them at all, but only on ourselves.  We ‘re thinking of what we should say next rather than focusing on their needs and understanding their hearts.

I realized that, as I took a look at myself and I listened to the many conversations around me at any given moment, there was not a lot of understanding going on.  Oh, there was plenty of talking and conversing, but not much listening and understanding.  How sad.

Because we listen to so many people often, I believe we are at risk of getting “sloppy” in our listening.  We allow many things to distract us—phones, emails, the grocery list in our heads, the items on today’s “to do” list.  We listen to so many things when we are talking with someone, other than the very person with whom we are supposed to be listening to.

I discovered that, as I made a commitment to listen and understand my husband and children, that we all got along better and worked together more cooperatively—and even enjoyed each other’s company more!  And when all was said and done, I discovered that things worked much more efficiently after all, because there were less melt downs, arguments and drama and more understanding to go around.

Let’s make a commitment today to listen actively to everyone we speak with—with our ears, our eyes, our spirits, our whole selves.  Let’s not listen with the intent of responding, but of truly understanding and loving.  What a difference we can make in the lives of many if we give ourselves selflessly and completely in each brief conversation we have so we may connect with and understand them.

What a precious gift to give one another!  And it’s absolutely free!  All it costs us is our time and understanding.  And let’s face it, friends, if we run out of either of those, what do we have left to make up our lives with?  Let’s begin to make active listening a habit today!