Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Be a generous listener.

When was the last time you dropped what you were doing, stopped thinking about what you were thinking, sat down, really looked at someone, and listened. Listened not just with your ears, but your eyes and your heart as well.

Think about that. We all think we are listening all of the time. And certainly we hear things. But are we truly listening? Would people say that you were a good listener if someone asked them?

I was at a patient's home the other day. There was a lovely woman lying on a hospital bed, about 88 years old. She was unresponsive. She was in the living room of a very well worn home. All the furniture had been moved out, except for two chairs that sat next to the bed.

In one old chair sat a man, about the same age. He looked weary. He asked me to sit down on the other chair to tell him news that he certainly did not want to hear.

He talked to me about his wife of 68 years. Talked about places they had lived and had traveled to. Talked about how they raised their 3 kids and about the grandchildren and great grandchildren they now had. I sat and tried hard to listen.

I had 3 other patients to see that afternoon. None close by, miles apart and it was raining. Then I thought about how I had to rush over to my daughter's school to pick her up and after that I had to go to the grocery store. Then I started thinking about dinner.....

Anyway, the man was still talking to me. Then he said something that I don't think I will ever forget. He said, "What I will miss the most when Martha dies is her uncanny ability to be a generous listener."

That caused me to pause. A generous listener. One who gives the time and energy to listen. One who makes one feel that they are really, truly being listened to.

How many times have you had a conversation with someone and they say, "Are you listening to me?" How many times have you looked at your watch or your phone while your daughter was telling you about her day? How many tasks are you trying to finish while talking to someone on the phone? Did you really have a conversation with your husband last night or were you just talking at one another while watching TV.

Let's face it. We are not always generous listeners. We like our conversations short and to the point. Email, texting and Facebook have become the new ways of communicating and staying in touch. Simple short blurbs.

Communication, yes.

Listening, no.

So, think about how you rate as a listener to the people who mean the most to you. Think about how you look as you stand or sit and talk to someone. Are you really engaged? Do you make eye contact? Are you really, honestly caring about what this person has to say?

Check your body language. Do you have one foot tapping or out the door. Are you looking around to see who is coming or going. Are you nervously clutching your Blackberry or iphone. Are you silently thinking about your to do list. Are you really, honestly present?

We listen with our whole selves. And people notice when we are not.

Mr. Smith noticed. He knew that I was thinking about something else. Even though I sat there, leaning forward and looking straight at him, he knew. He just knew.

And it made me sad. And I am sure it made him sad, too.

We will never know the impact we have on others. We try to be giving to those we love or care about, but many times we fall short of the mark. Sometimes we don't know what to give or how to give it.

Time and attention is what most people crave. It is true. Usually nothing more than that.

So be a generous listener. It is a pure and genuine gift. So give it freely and often.

To listen is an effort, and just to hear has no merit. A duck hears also.
~~~Igor Stravinsky


  1. Janice, thank you for that. Each of your posts are a refreshing reminder about what matters.

  2. Thanks, Tom. I feel the very same way about your blog. I am looking forward to reading your book!

    Tom's book is coming out in September. It is entitiled, "Following Atticus." Click on Tom's name to be redirected to his blog. It is wonderful.