Think of a time you were conversing with someone. As you talked with them you noticed the lights were on, but nobody was home. You may say they were in la la land or daydreaming. When was the last time you got the blank stare from someone? We have all probably experienced chatting with a friend or having a discussion with our spouse only to realize they are off in another world.
We may ask; “Did you hear me?” to which they quickly respond with; “Huh? Yeah…” Parents sometimes experience this when they are correcting their teenager. The teenager rolls the eyes or looks everywhere else except for in the eyes of their parent. All too often this happens. Not only has it happened to us, but we have also done it to others.
Who Are You Really Listening To?
We have all been there where someone is pouring their heart out to us and we are genuinely listening, but then something pops into our mind (out of nowhere it seems!) and we begin to dwell on it. We start carrying on a conversation in our head concerning a situation or circumstance going on in our life, forgetting about the conversation we were having with the person across from us. This can all happen in a matter of minutes. This leaves the other person feeling like they are not important and are a burden to us.
I believe we all desire to be genuine listeners and to resist the temptation of carrying on a conversation in our head while talking with someone. The simple fact is there will always be something we can dwell on in our mind while others are talking to us.
If we acknowledge this first, we will prepare for its arrival and can deal with it appropriately. It is similar to a nation receiving intel on how and where an enemy is going to attack. Once they have the information they can be prepared for the enemy. In our case the enemy is the very thoughts of our mind.
How to Give Your Undivided Attention
First off, whether we say it aloud to the individual or simply to ourselves, we must acknowledge the person being very important to us and so therefore we are all ears before them. They are so important they have our full undivided attention. Attention is divided when we are so called listening to them while we are really listening to our head.
Full undivided attention is when we are giving both our ears to the person and listening to every word. If we can establish that people are important and we really do care about what they are saying, we will listen better. This is not to say things will still not creep up in our mind, but that brings us to the next step.
We can be all ears for the person we are talking with and still things will pop up in our minds. Sometimes this is triggered by something the person said. Sometimes it is just a worthless thought. No matter what type of thought it is I have to shut it down because I am presently in a conversation with somebody else thinking about what they are saying. I can come back to myself later on. We have the ability to take every single thought captive and that’s what we must do.
Are the Lights On But Nobody’s Home?
Okay, how do we do that? When you find yourself drifting into a conversation in your head, bring it to a halt. In other words stop thinking about it and go back to thinking about what the person is saying. We daydream when we have been dwelling on the thought too long.
The ‘lights are on, but nobody is home’ phenomenon sets in because we have given too much time to the thought which crept in our mind. Stop the thought. While yes, it is true that God has created our brain to have the awesome ability of thinking on many things at one time, we can only focus on one thing at a time. We can only focus on one thought at a time. If we allow ourselves to dwell on the thought in our mind rather than the conversation at hand, we will be focused on the thought. We have to stop the thought.
Try this exercise. Take a moment and think about where you would like to go on your next vacation. What would you like to do? How much fun would you have? Okay, so you got the dream vacation? Now, what do you have to accomplish at work or home tomorrow? What did you notice took place when you went from thinking about your dream vacation to work or home? What happened in your mind?
Did you switch gears from vacation to work? You were so focused on creating that dream vacation and then you easily began focusing on work or home. This exercise is what we must practice when having conversations with people. It will help us to stay focused on what the individual is saying.
Listening for Real
The next thing we must do is be a genuine listener. The conversation in our head is a big obstacle to good and quick listening, but if we do not genuinely listen we are no better off. Genuine listening not only involves cutting off the thoughts in our mind and focusing on the person. It involves not interrupting them while they are talking.
All too often we jump in with our own experiences and thoughts about what the person is going through or dealing with in the attempt to help them. This is not genuine listening. Genuine listening involves allowing the person to get off their chest what troubles or concerns them without interruption.
Many times people are simply looking for someone to listen to them not offer advice or solutions. We are not genuine listening when we are looking for the place where we can interrupt the conversation with our advice and our solution to help the person out.
This may be a form of listening, but we are really listening for something we can relate to, have experienced, or have knowledge of in order to tell the person what they should or should not do. This is not genuine listening. Genuine listening is staying within the boundaries of thinking and focusing only on what the person is saying. There are no preconceived ideas or interruptions.
True Listening is a Gift
It is easy to go off into la la land and it is easy to interrupt with advice and solutions. It takes practice, practice, more practice, and good effort to be a genuine listener. A genuine listener truly cares about the individual talking to them. Remember, be quick to listen and slow to speak. The gift of listening is one of the best presents we can give to our spouse, children, friend, relative, co-worker, employee, etc.
Tune in to what the other person is saying.