“Excuse me, I just need to check this text,” I apologize to the person I am visiting with. Then I set my phone aside and resume the conversation, feeling guilty for heeding the ding of my phone instead of being fully present with the soul in front of me. The text could have waited.
At the same time, I wonder, when we are scrolling texts, emails and social media, are we paying full attention to what we’re seeing there either? Or are our brains scattered, skittering over a multitude of messages and ideas, not really soaking in much of anything? In this case, we’re not connecting very well online or in person.
We live in a culture of interruptions and distractions. How can we take care of our relationships with people amid everything clamoring for our attention?
I am working on becoming a better listener. Slowing down, focusing on the conversation at hand, pausing to reflect and just be in the moment, instead of hurrying to respond. I remind myself I don’t have to have an opinion about everything, and even if I do, this may not be the time to share it. I can learn so much more if I concentrate on what others are saying instead of what pops to mind.
And interrupting – ouch, I do it too much. I have finished sentences for family members when I thought I knew what was coming next, only to have them come back with, “Actually, that’s not what I was going to say.”
Reflective, considerate listening, on the other hand, waits for the other person to finish, and then may ask questions to confirm we truly understood what they are trying to convey. We might find our loved ones less annoying if we don’t always assume they’re going to say the same irritating things we’ve heard before. Maybe they won’t repeat their grievances as much if they feel we really hear what they’re saying and care what they’re feeling.
My late father talked a lot, I thought too much, and about things the rest of us didn’t care about as much as he did. He had trouble noticing whether people were listening and interested in his lengthy ideas. As he became forgetful and quieter in old age, I would go to him with a question about something I knew he used to talk about (but I didn’t remember the details because I hadn’t been listening). His weary brain couldn’t remember, so then I felt thoughtless for not having paid attention to his ideas earlier.
When children are eager to share something, do we rush them, or do we take time to let them finish their story? Of course, I know sometimes children would talk constantly if given a chance, and definitely need some training to take turns and listen to others.
For example, my mother (turning 100 this year) tells of when she was a little girl on a bus ride, sitting right behind the driver and treating him to a steady stream of chatter. He turned and offered, “I’ll give you a nickel if you’ll be quiet for five minutes.” She managed to comply, for the reward.
I will close with her wise words: “I liked the sound of my own voice, even with nothing significant to say. It was only much later that I learned (imperfectly to be sure) that it wasn’t necessary to say everything in my mind.”
Winifred Hoffman, of Earlville is a farmer, breeder of dual-purpose cattle and a student of life. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.