Posts Tagged 'listening'

Everyone has an important story to tell


Everyone has a story to tell, and, given an opportunity, we all want to tell the important stories of our lives— stories that explain who we are and where we came from, stories that prove we existed and mattered, stories about the people and events that affected our lives. And we can all learn from one another’s stories.

There is no day more appropriate to invite that storytelling than today, which is the 5th anniversary of the “National Day of Listening.”

“On the day after Thanksgiving, StoryCorps asks everyone to take a few minutes to record an interview with a loved one,” the web site of the National Day of Listening recommends.

“You can use recording equipment that is readily available to you, such as computers, iPhones, and tape recorders, along with StoryCorps’ free Do It-Yourself Instruction Guide.”

The lesson that everyone has an important story to tell has been reinforced time and again for me as a hospice volunteer who is privileged to videotape hospice patients talking about their lives in conversation with family members.

All that is required of us is to extend the invitation and to listen deeply without interruption to those stories. Once the conversation begins, it’s likely to proceed almost effortlessly, at least in my experience.

Some possible questions include:
• What elders or events influenced the person you’ve become?
• How would you like to be remembered?
• What advice would you like to pass along to your children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, or others in your life?

There’s no gift more important and precious that human beings can give one another than our undivided attention and genuine interest in the stories we all have to tell. When that attention promotes storytelling across generations, it is a gift that benefits its recipients for decades to come, particularly when those stories are preserved on video or with voice recordings.

What’s on your mind?
• How have stories and storytelling shaped your life?
• To whom would you like to reach out—an elder, a family member or friend, a veteran or active duty military (a special StoryCorps focus this year), a colleague, or a neighbor, for example—to invite his or her storytelling?

[While this post was first published at Thanksgiving 2012, its content is as important and relevant today as it did then. I have updated the links.]

Bridging the divide


This political season has underscored the significant and emotionally-charged differences in values and perspectives that divide Americans.

Too many people from all political persuasions follow some variation of this thought process, perhaps unconsciously:

• You and I have different political views.

• Therefore, you are wrong.

• And, because you are wrong, you are evil.

I have learned that it is much harder to travel down the road of such harsh judgments once we have listened carefully and with empathy to the life stories of others to more deeply understand the people and events that shaped their views.

Such listening does not mean that we will necessarily agree with their reasoning nor that we will be able to influence their points of view.

But it will make it possible for us to see them as human beings worthy of respect, a quality that seems to be in short supply these days.

While I am not naive enough to believe that listening with empathy is the bridge across those differences, I do think it is the onramp to that bridge and an essential step in addressing the profound differences that divide us as a nation.

Do you agree?

The gift of exquisite listening


“One social habit that I used to be quite bad at was to truly listen when other people spoke. I sometimes zoned out. I got distracted or my attention started to wander before they were done talking. Or I just waited for my turn to talk again (while thinking about what I should say next). Not very helpful. So things had to change.” —Henrik Edberg

There is no greater gift that one person can give another than sustained, attentive, and nonjudgmental listening.

Being fully heard and deeply understood by another human being is rare and can be life changing.

Because such committed listening also enriches the experience of the listener, it can transform relationships.

In addition, it is an essential ingredient of “deep work” (see previous post).

Henrik Edberg describes the attributes of such listening this way:

“When you listen, just listen.

” Don’t interrupt. Don’t jump in with solutions (this one can be a hard one in my experience).

“Just be present in the moment and listen fully to what the other person has to say and let him or her speak until the entire message is said.

“Sometimes that is also all that’s needed. For someone to truly listen as we vent for a few minutes and figure things out for ourselves.”

“Just listening” requires practice and discipline, however.

Sophia Dembling offers a tool that can help us master this demanding habit:

“Imagine that there is a big arrow hovering over the space between two people engaged in a conversation…. As the listener in this conversation, your goal is to keep the arrow pointing at the other person for as long as possible.

“A devoted listener knows that there is always more to learn about another person, no matter how long you’ve known them.”

What have you learned about the benefits of such listening, and what helps you more consistently offer it to others?

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