Someone told me something simple yet profound recently. Fortunately, I was paying attention and listening, or more importantly hearing and absorbing what was said.
This person said, “You are either nowhere or you are now here.” He was talking about the elusive art of actually listening to another person.
His point was, we are either off somewhere else mentally or we are front and center when someone is talking.
I have thought about this a lot since. Because truth be told, I suck as a listener a lot of times. I will be sitting at the kitchen table with my wife and kids and suddenly I’ll realize people are talking and I’m daydreaming about something else. Or worse, my wife will yell, “It would be nice if you were actually here with us. Can you please pay attention?”
So Many Excuses For Not Listening Well
Many of us with information overloaded lives probably suffer from this. We are reeling from all the buzzes and tweets and stuff coming at us, and we’re constantly on the edge waiting for the next interruption. I find myself having made-up conversations in my head or thinking back on some event from the day or thinking ahead to something else…and then, poof, suddenly I’m no where.
Sadly, these are just excuses. Listening well is an act of volition that takes 100% commitment on the part of the listener. If you suck at listening, you have no one to blame but yourself.
Assess And Improve Your Listening Skills
If you’ve been told you are a poor listener, it should be a real wake-up call. Unfortunately, in a lot of places people won’t tell you how bad you are at it. For example, if you’re the boss and they are employees. The emperor often is not only naked, but doesn’t show any empathy for what you have to say—but it’s awkward for anyone to state the obvious.
Good listening starts with paying attention. Take the concept of either now here or nowhere to heart. I am doing this more often, very intentionally, and it’s starting to really help.
It’s like when a fighter pilot starts strapping up for the ride, he or she goes through a physical and mental checklist to remind themselves—here I am and I’d better pay attention or I might kill myself and/or others. In my case, I might be telling myself, Pay attention, because my wife deserves me to be here now for her. And the kids will never get this moment with their dad back. Be hear now.
Sometimes it helps to be around worse listeners than you. I have been around one recently who is so bad, it makes me alternately amazed and furious and saddened to see the impact on others in the room. It’s been a little eye-opening, knowing how much I have annoyed others over the years when I wasn’t listening intently.
It’s true God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason. But it’s equally true that listening is not just a job for the ears, but all the other senses you have access to. When you are physically present, it is crucial to “listen” with your eyes to others’ body language. What you may “hear,” silently, will surprise you at times.
Listen more, and be now here. Not nowhere.