Sometimes I like to just sit in a crowded public place and listen. Listen to the bustle of the crowd; catch snippets of conversation in passing. Listen and watch. You learn a lot about people that way.
I like to sit in a restaurant and watch people. Based on what I see of their body language, notice about their physical presentation, and hear of their conversations, I construct elaborate back stories about their lives in my head. I make my best guess at what they love and fear, how often they smile, and what brought them to this specific moment, where we share a space and a time.
When you act like a sponge; when you pay attention: that’s when you learn the most. While absorbing the actions of strangers in public might be more of a bizarre hobby than a helpful addition to your life, listening to the people you are directly communicating with makes all the difference in the world. I don’t mean listening, like… hearing the words they’re saying an nodding your head while waiting for your turn to speak. Looking like you’re listening doesn’t mean you are listening.
Truly listening to someone who’s sitting in front of you means you don’t talk. You don’t give your opinion, you don’t insert your little quips, you don’t go off on a random tangent related to what they’ve said. You just. Listen. You listen until they stop talking, and then you listen some more. If they stop talking for awhile, you ask a question about what they’ve said to get them talking again. You do this until you have a deeper understanding of who they are as a person.
It’s in our nature to want to be known, and to share, which is why we’re always so quick to want to take hold of a conversation. It’s why so many people feel fulfilled when talking about themselves. Hell, it’s why some of us blog. It’s the willingness to share who we are in the hopes of making a connection. But, if everybody is wanting to talk and nobody wants to listen, any connections made will be entirely superficial.
I work with a lot of incredibly smart people: doctors, nurses, social workers and the like. On my break when I join many of them in the coffee room at work, I love listening to what they have to say. I hear such interesting stories and even learn something every now and then.
When you’re just getting to know somebody, it’s so important to listen. When I have someone new in my life, I want to learn all about them. I want to know what makes them tick, what they love, what makes them smile or laugh, how they see the world and how they see themselves. I love deep connections, and it’s easier to achieve those when you listen. If you don’t, you’ll end up projecting onto that person who you think they are, or who you want them to be, rather than who they’ve been trying to tell you they are.
Try it. Next time you’re having a conversation with somebody, don’t think about yourself at all. Don’t talk about yourself if you can avoid it. Ask questions to the person you’re conversing with and let them talk. Listen to what they’re saying and pay attention while trying not to subconsciously dismiss them in favor of trying to make yourself known. It just might be one of the best conversations you’ve ever had.