The majority of people, I am guesstimating, are probably better at talking than they are at listening. We all have instances when we realise we’ve lost track of a conversation because something else is playing on our minds and, of course, we all interrupt. But that can be a conversational interruption, to empathise or probe for more information, or to gain clarification before a conversation continues further.
Sometimes you may interrupt simply because you are so excited and passionate about the conversation that is taking place. But it’s just as likely that you know a person who interrupts constantly, shuts your conversation down before it’s even begun, and generally appears to have no listening skills whatsoever. Imagine if you’re that person? Perhaps the perceived rudeness of the interruptor is actually a desperate bid to just get you to shut the hell up, after your hour-long soliloquy. Mortifying. But how many of us are self-aware enough to realise it?
This seems such a shame when you really think about it, because even idle chit-chat conveys something that a person is trying to get across. Not only is it rude not to listen, it also demonstrates a lack of care, and perhaps a preoccupation with oneself.
It’s especially important that our children are listened to. If they are not, then eventually they’ll stop bothering to tell us things. My youngest daughter rarely stops talking but, however frustrating, I do try hard to stop and listen (and then silently tear my hair out in another room), because she needs to feel valued. I also like the fact that she admits a wide variety of things to me, both good and bad, and mischievous, and I hope that she does feel listened to. It tests my sanity, but I try to see past the babble about her soft toys and cling to the sparkly glimmers of humour, anecdotes, and highs and lows of her day.
When I was at school myself, the teacher who inspired me to become one, told our class that listening was one of the most important things you can do for another person. If somebody has a problem or something to share, then simply listening – and not necessarily giving any advice whatsoever – can help them immeasurably. In fact, it’s a compliment that they’re willing to tell you.
Being listened to enables us to begin processing our problems. It isn’t always an easy task, it can be worrying or draining, depending on what we are listening to, but it is an important one. If you have a friend who is both willing and able to simply sit and allow you to offload for however long is necessary to your emotional well-being, then they are a friend indeed.
Alternatively, if you have a friend who likes to listen to no-one but themselves, then perhaps you need to re-evaluate your definition of ‘friend’, and pop them back under the ‘acquaintance’ stone. If somebody can’t respect the fact that you are choosing them, in amongst a sea of many, to share the details of your one and only existence with, then cast your friendship net adrift elsewhere and leave them to the flotsam and jetsam of their own monologue.
First published in the Portsmouth News, Tuesday 22nd March 2016