My friend Christina is an amazing listener. She looks you in the eye, nods accordingly and gives a mild “Mmmhmmmm” in all the right places. Not like the “Mmmhmmm” I give my neighbor when I’m they’re droning on about that weird rash on their arm. These are the mmmhmmms of a engaged, empathetic listener.
Sometimes I am a great listener. But often I am a terrible listener. I interject when I shouldn’t. I offer solutions. I give my opinion when no one asked. Usually because I think I’m right.
In my overthinking about wanting to turn myself into a better listener, one of the cheesy Stephen Covey 7 Habits of Highly Effective People popped into my head: “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”
Here’s an example. A few weeks ago I was talking to a some moms from school when one brought up a book written by one of the self help gurus of the moment, someone I cannot stand, although I won’t go into reasons why here. So when she asked if I had read it, I dragged out my portable soapbox, stepped up on it and explained, tactfully but emphatically, that I had a few issues with the author and her particular brand of motivation, and I gladly dove into those issues. I don’t even remember if she asked or not.
But later that evening (and the next morning, if I’m being honest), I replayed the conversation over and over. What was probably a pretty mutual conversation morphed – in my mind – into me standing in my tower, casting my judgment, and word vomiting all of my unsolicited opinions onto her and her lovely leather jacket.
I later texted to apologize, and she answered that she thought nothing of it; she welcomes other people’s opinions. And I believe her. But it doesn’t change that she wanted to share something that had an impact on her, and I took that opportunity to poopoo all over it. I let my desire to air my opinions about this author (which I stand by, but that’s beside the point) take over my ability to listen to my friend tell me why it had an impact on her.
“Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”
This doesn’t mean I have to listen to my crazy aunt spout questionable political rhetoric or suffer through the description of my neighbor’s other rash. But I can try. (And maybe I need to point my neighbor to a dermatologist.)
So my word of the year is “Listen.” I want to become a better listener in 2019. Because it feels good to feel like you’re really being listened to. And yes, I feel like I can tell when someone is giving me inauthentic mmmhmmms, although I promise I will never tell you about my weird rash unless we are unusually close. Basically if we talk rashes, consider yourself in my inner circle.