What is one behavior, or habit, we all should develop as a result of the events of 2020?”

This was a question posed to Simon Sinek in a webinar this summer. His response, after some thought, was LISTENING. Is that what came to your mind initially? I will admit it wasn’t what came to mine, but upon further reflection, I realized there is a lot of validity to his answer.

If we take a step back and look at the recent civil unrest and the arguing over what the appropriate response should be to managing the COVID-19 pandemic, it is apparent that we are not listening to each other. How often do we have Sirius XM, a podcast, or TV on while working or talking with friends and family? We have effectively trained ourselves to hear, but not to listen. Yet, we have convinced ourselves we do both simultaneously. A friend shared a story about talking to her husband, don’t worry no man-bashing here, and had the sense he wasn’t listening. She asked him to repeat what she said, and he perfectly listed back everything she has just told him. However, an hour later he asked her about one of the very things she had just told him. He had clearly heard her but didn’t listen. (My husband and I have had this same discussion, too.)

Hearing and listening are both verbs, but one is passive, and the other is active.

The definition of the word hear is to perceive by the auditory sense.

The definition of the word listen is to give one’s attention to a sound; to hear and attend to. To me, listening is hearing and also understanding and then attending to the issue.

(Definitions from “The Living Webster Encyclopedic Dictionary”)

There is a lot of conversation about feeling isolated during the shelter in place orders, but if we are honest, some feelings of isolation were occurring long before physical distancing. Not having our message listened to makes us feel isolated. The events around the Black Lives Matter movement are a perfect illustration of the frustration that can explode over not feeling truly heard and understood. To listen is to hear, understand and attend to. Members of the Black Community are feeling the hurt and frustrated like my friend with her husband to an exponential degree. We respond to the frustrated acts taking place in the moment, but an hour later it is out of our consciousness. We are hearing, but not listening.

Being heard creates a feeling of self-worth. When you are an unheard member of the community, team, or family, you feel insignificant. Your perspectives, feelings and ideas don’t matter. These thoughts etch away at our sense of value to the group and belonging. Not listening is not always a willful act against us. As the speaker, take note if the body language of your recipient is telling you it is not a good time; take ownership of inquiring about a better time and place. As the recipient, pause the speaker and propose a time when you can truly listen; explain that you want to be able to give them your full attention and that is not possible at this moment. Make sure you follow-up later and don’t brush them off. We can eliminate the inadvertent slights we make on another’s self-worth simply by being more attentive and intentional.

So why don’t we listen more? Is our overwhelming propensity to multi-task and just trying to do too much the cause? Quite possibly. If we don’t pause to listen, we will miss opportunities and relationships will degrade. The other possibility is that we fear being changed by the message we’ll receive. Someone pointed out to me that people don’t fear change, they fear being changed. Ralph G. Nichols said, “We must face with courage the fact that when we succeed in ‘hearing a person out,’ our own position may become quite modified.” Finding solutions and progress comes from active listening.

“The most basic of all human needs is the need to understand and be understood…The best way to understand people is to listen to them,” Ralph G. Nichols. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs tells us that belonging and love needs are the third level to reaching self-actualization, right behind safety and security. When we are self-actualized, we reach our full potential. The more people we have operating at their full potential, the more easily we’ll resolve challenges and reduce the chances of conflict for the future. The gift of listening is not a selfless one. Yes, it takes your time, energy, and you risk being changed. But you also have the phenomenal opportunity to gain new insights and knowledge for your own development. Isn’t it time we set aside time today to really listen to our team, family and friends?

Warm regards,