“Everyone wants to be heard, but no one wants to listen.”
I was talking with a friend yesterday, and we were discussing how rare it is to find someone who actually knows how to listen.
Both of us often have the experience of getting to the end of a conversation and thinking, “That person does not know one thing about me.”
I think it stems from how isolated we’ve all become. People are so desperate to be heard that when a willing listener comes along, they forget to reciprocate. Or, if they listen, they do so with the goal of finding another topic they can talk about in regards to themselves, another inroad to talking about their own experiences.
But to what end? If the person you’ve just spilled out your heart and life to feels completely unheard and unseen, will they want to spend more time with you? Have you gained a friend, or just unloaded your words on someone?
Listening is an art, and one that takes patience and practice. It means asking follow-up questions and truly being engaged and interested, and, yes, occasionally, it means letting the spotlight shine on someone else. It means trying to find the entrance point to the other person’s perspective—in other words, asking questions to help you understand where they’re coming from, and where they hope to go.
Recently I went out (because I’m single and looking to mingle; or at least, I’m single) and I met a guy. Because I have not yet perfected the art of ending a conversation I don’t want to be a part of, I ended up talking to this guy for a really long time. Finally I managed to excuse myself, and he was insistent that we should exchange information because “we have so much in common.” But the fact was, he knew nothing about me. He just felt heard because I asked questions. But he didn’t return the favor; not once. Even when I’d ask a simple question, he never turned it around: “How about you? How do you feel about that?” “This is where I’m from. How about you? Where are you from?”
He left thinking we had an amazing connection. I left feeling drained.
I strongly believe that if we want something, we should find ways to give that thing. If you want kindness, for example, be kind. If you want love, be loving.
If you want to be heard, practice listening.
The people I know who most bemoan how no one hears them are also the people who do the least listening.
I’m not saying everyone should be silent and put everyone else before them. I’m saying we have lost the art of listening. Now we’re a planet of people talking at each other: serial monologues, but no actual interaction.
Listen. Ask questions. Be curious. Ask the next question, and see where it leads, and then ask another question. Of course it’s good to intersperse questions with your own stories. But make your conversations into a dance. Not merely opportunities for a personal showcase.