I was eating lunch with some friends the other day, and about 20 minutes into the conversation I noticed something.
Someone said they’d seen a movie recently. They didn’t like it, but they didn’t really elaborate on their opinion. Someone else mentioned that she had seen saw a different movie over the weekend, and she didn’t like it either. The third person at the table nodded along, and mentioned that he’d seen a totally different movie last month. He liked it.
I just sat there, eating my carrot sticks, shaking my head.
To an outsider walking by, we appeared to be having a conversation. But we weren’t, really. Everyone was talking about their movie experience. But no one was actually interacting with each other. No one asked “What didn’t you like about the movie?” or “I heard that was funny, do you agree?” or any other variation of a question that would indicate they were listening to the person talking.
Listening is a rare gift. We spend so much of our lives in front of screens, which gives us a false sense of connection. We long for true connection with others. But are we longing so deeply for it, that when we’re given the opportunity to connect, we can’t get past our desire for someone to know us? That makes it hard to listen in a way that communicates care for someone.
So how do we connect with others? How do we listen well?
Here are a couple things I’ve been trying:
Looking people in the eye when they are talking. Sounds obvious, but for a person who sometimes (often) feels a tiny bit of anxiety in social situations, forcing myself to look someone in the eye helps me focus on the other person.
This also means when my phone buzzes in my pocket, I try not to break eye contact. Just that small inaction- ignoring your buzzing or ringing phone- can communicate care and concern. I’m saying to the other person, “you are important”. You are more important than an Instagram notification or a talking cat gif from my BFF (did I mention this is a sacrifice? Esp when a cat is talking. Talking).
Responding with a question, rather than turning the conversation back to me. Asking things like: “How did that make you feel?” or “Why was that surprising to you?” or even “Then what happened?” instead of sharing my own opinion communicates that I’m listening, and not just waiting for the person to stop talking so I can talk about myself.
What do you think? How do you practice the art of “listening well?”
Amy is on staff with Cru and works in Operations in Minneapolis, MN. She enjoys writing, drinking coffee, and utilizing Microsoft Excel for just about everything in life. You can read some of her writing at amywellner.com