The One Thing to Save (All) Your Relationships
Communication is the most critical ingredient of any type of relationship. Yet today’s world has so much noise, we have all forgotten how to listen.
“Yep, yep. Got it. Great. Yep. Yep,” he said.
I was telling Toby my latest family crisis at warp speed, covering each detail as if it could be a secret clue to a buried treasure.
Toby was a great multi tasker. His mouth could “Yep. Yep. Yep…” like those muppets from space while it was obvious his brain was off somewhere else, like wondering how many pant suits Hillary Clinton actually owned.
He then pulled out his phone.
“Sorry just gotta check one thing…”
My words tripped over each other and then stopped. Not having his full attention made me feel unimportant and doubt the strength of our friendship. It just didn’t seem like we were listening to each other anymore.
Don’t get me wrong, Toby does hear. After all, he has two ears attached to each side of his head. As long as he doesn’t put on noise canceling headphones, the vibrations from my gaping mouth will enter his ear canal.
He’ll Yep and then nod as if sending a read email receipt. He, like me, had been trained to look responsive while being the least present possible so he can spread himself across many mediums at once.
Facebook messenger. Gchat. Text message. imessage. Email. Snapchat. Whatsapp. 20 minute standing meeting in-between two other 20 minute standing meetings.
We assume being responsive to many people at once maximizes our productivity. And keeping things to 3 main bullet points is beneficial for all parties involved. “Get to the point,” we say, as if we are helping someone.
But what if someone needs OUR help to find the point? And what if there isn’t one? Does this mean we shouldn’t listen? Or if we want to be listened to, like I did with Toby, do we need come to into each conversation with an executive summary and a stopwatch?
I fear our lack of attention and desire for brevity damages our relationships. Executive summaries do not develop empathy. Impatience impedes necessary bond building.
The best gift we can give each other is the patience to hear each other’s full stories without distraction or judgement. This is how we connect to one another in romance, business, and friendship.
People leave each other when they don’t truly know (or want to know) one another. As mentioned in the book The Little Prince, in order to know someone, you must “tame” them. It takes time to “tame” someone. But in the taming and the knowing, you may just come to love them.
“One only understands the things that one tames…Men have no more time to understand anything. They buy things all ready made at the shops. But there is no shop anywhere where one can buy friendship, and so men have no friends any more.” — The Fox, The Little Prince
From clients to friends, I’m in love with taming people and gleaning their stories. If I didn’t take the time to listen, I’d have nothing to write about. Of course, I sometimes stumble and Yep. Yep. Yep like when listening to my mom on the phone while simultaneously washing dishes. But I’ll catch myself, sit down on the couch, and then ask her a clarifying question. I know from personal experience how good it feels to be really listened to.
A year ago, I had a very interesting encounter on a first date. Like most first dates, I assumed our conversation would be slotted into a 55 minute session before we both went off to our second engagement of the evening. However, Marc surprised me.
First of all, he turned off his phone when we sat down for coffee. Who the hell turns off their phone? At first, I thought he was a weirdo.
He then asked questions, like really personal questions, and listened, waiting patiently for each thought to come out, even if it wasn’t fully dressed.
Marc helped me figure out what I wanted to say, working through my verbiage with me. He made me go deep into the back of my mind’s wardrobe. I found things there I hadn’t tried on in years. There was no judgment or distraction and for the first time in along while, I felt someone cared about my mind.
It was scary to have someone uncover so many layers of me at once. But since I was undressing, I decided I should let him undress too. And I listened. With patience and care and curiosity to uncover more layers.
This first date lasted seven hours.
Man, I was hooked. This reciprocal listening thing was addicting.
Marc and I dated for a while but it ended due to life complications and mismatched timing. However, despite popular wisdom, we are still in each other’s lives, listening and helping each other figure out what we want to say next to the world.
You see, it’s hard to leave people that listen. They become a part of you. I’d rather donate a kidney than lose the ears of someone who has tamed me.
Because of Marc’s influence, I’ve become an even better listener to everyone around me. I try to be empathetic to the world my brother lives in and am more patient with my parents. I try to understand WHY people say things as opposed to merely acknowledging they have said them.
I’ve also stopped checking my phone incessantly. I may not “appear” as productive at work. But I am more engaged with each person and am a better friend, daughter, advisor and partner. My relationships won’t just last, they’ll open up and become even grander than they were before.
“Yep. Yep. Yep.” has been replaced with “Tell more more, I have all the time in the world.”
I don’t talk to Toby anymore though. I’ll leave him to thinking about pantsuits.
My Listening tips
-Turn off your phone
-Give the conversation time
-Keep an open, non judgmental mind
-Have love in your eyes