“When someone receives us with open-hearted, non-judging, intensely interested listening, our spirits expand.” ~Sue Patton Theole
Whether you’re talking to your mother or your coworker, odds are you don’t always give your complete attention, without formulating thoughts of your own. Even the most Zen person sometimes waits to talk instead of really listening.
It happens all the time.
As your sister recounts her afternoon and the hassle she encountered at the DMV, you feel the temptation to interrupt and one-up her—your afternoon was even crazier.
While your boyfriend tells you about his interview, you half-listen and half prepare your own monologue, entitled My Long Day at the Office.
And let’s not forget your daughter’s after-school recap, when it takes everything inside you to not finish her sentence, rush her to the point, and start doling out chores. Without realizing it, you’ve given a subtle cue she doesn’t deserve your time and full attention.
When you focus your energy on planning what to say next, you don’t completely hear what someone’s saying—meaning you respond to them without digesting their words first.
Instead of staying open, allowing their story maximum impact, you listen halfheartedly so you’ll have your turn, and hopefully their agreement or approval.
After all, that’s what we all want: a sense that we’re heard, our feelings make sense, and we have a right to feel them.
Why not give that gift to someone else before seeking it for yourself?
It’s challenging to stop thinking about our lives long enough to focus on someone else’s. And it may seem counterintuitive—how can you converse if you don’t process what someone else says and consider it within the context of your own reality?
It’s not so much a matter of shutting off your mind as it is learning to focus your attention—actively listening without judging or drifting, so you can respond from a place of clarity; and quelling your instinct to switch the subject when that person you care about would appreciate just a little more of your time.
When you resist the urge to compare or compete and refrain from forming opinions, you let other people know you care about what they have to say. Not just because it gives you an excuse to talk about yourself, but because you value their thoughts and learn from them.
In the process, you also give yourself a break from worrying, analyzing, and judging—a brief flicker in time to let everything go and just absorb the world around you.
In that way you benefit twofold from forgetting yourself for a while.