We spend our lives believing we have to talk to impress people. We spend more of our lives thinking about what to say next even if what comes out of our mouths is an emotional reaction to what we just heard.
By doing so we are missing out on the best that life has to offer. For at middle age, I have learned to appreciate the cues that the world sends me. Cues come to us in a whole lot of ways and we use a variety of senses to pick up on them. Listening and seeing are obviously two of the most important. The third tool that is generally needed is intuition. However, if we are always talking, trying to get our own point of view across we are less likely to pick up on these cues and more likely to miss opportunities.
The same can be said if we are constantly looking inward and fail to consider our relationships and the needs of others.
To listen well and often, takes wisdom as Oliver Wendell Holmes alluded to in this wonderful quote:
To pickup on cues, it is not enough to be knowledgable it is also necessary to be wise. And more often than not, it is necessary to still the rehearsal of our own impending performance in our head.
Listening to others is the first requirement of understanding. There is no better compliment you can pay someone in this day and age than to give them the benefit of your full attention. It’s part of the reason that therapy and counselling thrives, sometimes all that is needed is to feel that one has been heard. Therapists, counsellors and best friends know that validation can only come from within and by active listening and strategic questioning they will lead you to find your own answers and that validation. I think the same philosophy applies in a marriage. The feeling that you are listened to by your spouse is fundamental to relationship longevity.
I will admit to being an expressive. Never shy about coming forward in a business meeting or in public speaking, it has served me relatively well to date. But I can now see bigger value in just sitting back and listening more often than speaking. This insight has led me to see that more often than not, it’s the same people always doing the talking and therefore the opportunity for new ideas and progressive input is unnecessarily limited. A great leader knows how to listen and to empower even the wall flowers in the team to share their ideas. It is no different in social circles. Sadly, it doesn’t happen too often, probably because we tend to equate talking with power or more importantly silence with weakness. Neither is actually the case.
I have also found that listening has another dimension, that of listening to yourself. We all need to strategize about the decisions that need to be made in our own lives. And we need the physical and head space to do this. We need to stop listening to the noise of business (laundry, cooking, cleaning, car maintenance etc) once in a while and focus on the strategic issues that will affect the bigger direction of our lives. Busy will get you through the next day or week, but strategic will determine the road ahead and create the platform for your busyness. We cannot work out life goals, priorities and identities unless we give ourselves permission to listen to our heads, our hearts and work out the questions we need to ask ourselves. At least I can’t. I need to stop my external talking and find the space to process all the inputs and self-dialogue.
So space to listen and process is not a luxury it is a necessity and I have given myself permission to create it.
Listening is not a weakness. We will not be measured by the number of words we speak, but the impact of them. Blogging is a case in point.
Today I give myself permission to listen.