Published on October 25th, 2016 | by SOMDParents0
The Gift of Listening
The Gift of Listening
By Sheri L. Tardio
“Listening is not waiting to talk.” –Scott Ginsberg
One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned from mediating conflicts is the power of listening. When we believe that our voices, opinions, thoughts, and feelings are being ignored or disregarded, we may become angry, resentful, or hurt. Often, the source of interpersonal conflict originates when two or more people talk at each other but no one is actually listening. As the holiday season approaches, I’ve been reflecting upon what a wonderful gift we give when we truly listen.
Listening is a difficult activity to perform. That may seem counterintuitive since people often think that listening doesn’t require doing anything. Real listening, however, engages not just our ears but our minds and hearts as well. It is a skill that takes practice, but the rewards are more than worth the effort. Being present with another person means that we allow ourselves to hear what is being said without judgment, criticism, or challenge. It means that we allow ourselves to feel alongside that person without becoming defensive. It means that we remain open to ideas that may be different from our own and to experiences that may make us uncomfortable. It means that we may be changed by the experience of listening.
How often do we hear about someone’s problem or conflict and immediately want to solve it for them? We throw out suggestions, advice, and sympathetic stories of our own in an attempt to make the other person feel better. How often does this actually help? Probably not very often. We may find ourselves arguing about what should be done and becoming frustrated that the person isn’t listening to our “helpful” advice.
The problem with giving advice is that it is often unsolicited. Sometimes we just want someone to listen to our problem and understand what we are going through. Jumping in with suggestions or advice tells the speaker that we don’t need or want to hear any more of the story. It suggests that we know how to solve the conflict better than the person having it. If the problem were really that simple, the solution probably would have been tried already. When we try to really understand others’ problems Instead of rushing in to try and solve them, we allow people the space to solve those problems for themselves.
Instead of jumping in with advice or stories of our own, just listen. It’s hard. Our brains start planning what we’re going to say next or what questions we want answered. Sometimes our brains totally jump the track and we start thinking about what to make for dinner , a phone call we need to make before 5:00, or the argument we had earlier in the day. It takes effort to really listen for an extended period of time. Listening isn’t just waiting for our turn to speak; it’s an active process that requires us to be fully engaged with the other person.
When we are able to put aside our own ideas, judgments, and egos to really listen to another person, we give a truly remarkable gift. It is a gift to ourselves as well, for we may learn something in the process. Give the gift of listening. It’s one of the best gifts you can give to anyone.
Sheri Tardio is Director of Operations at the Community Mediation Center of Calvert (CMCC). CMCC provides no-cost mediation services to Calvert County residents as well as outreach, training, and workshops in conflict management. We may be contacted at 443.295.7456 or at our website: www.calvert-mediation.org.