Monday, March 4, 2013

Listening Counts…with Strangers AND Family

I had just gotten settled in to my seat on the airplane for the long, cross-country flight and was looking forward to digging into the book I’d brought along. Then the woman who would be my seat-mate for the next several hours arrived. She was very outgoing and keen on striking up a conversation. I briefly thought about ignoring her or giving nonverbal cues (like keeping my head buried in my book) that signaled I did not want to engage in conversation, because I really want to enjoy the time to myself.

But then I realized I had an opportunity to connect with another human being, to make her feel cared about and understood. Besides, maybe I could learn something from her and gain some insights that would be valuable down the road.

So I closed my book, turned towards her and gave her my undivided attention as she opened up about significant events that were happening in her life. The conversation turned out to be a gift for both of us, though I could never have predicted that outcome in advance.

I got to thinking about the opportunities we have every day to listen and just “be there” for the ones we profess to care about most. But often we miss those moments.

There are times when I want to focus on what I’m reading or doing, but my husband Lee is eager to share something he’s been thinking about. It takes effort, patience and love to consciously shift my full attention to him and what he wants to say.

I can remember times in past years when I wasn’t so smart about this, and I hurt his feelings by brushing his comments aside. Or I would appear to listen but then wasn’t able to respond intelligently to a question that he posed, so he could tell I wasn’t really “there.”

It’s even easier to tune out your children when they start talking. When they’re wound up, kids can ramble and go into details that you don’t care about. You may even think, “Just give me a few minutes of silence and time for myself!”

If they’re telling you about a problem, you may be tempted to offer a quick solution to save time and get on with what you were doing.

But the truth is, listening is one of the most important gifts you can give to your children, as this brief video from the Strong for Parenting YouTube channel illustrates.

As any parent with adult children will tell you, the years that you have your children at home are fleeting. You can make the most of the time you have by making sure you really hear what they’re trying to tell you.

“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.” - Leo Buscaglia, American author (1924-1998)


  1. I've said for years that listening--genuinely listening to another person until we understand both the message and the speaker's feelings--is one of our most powerful communication tools, yet the most neglected.

    Thanks for this fine article emphasizing the value of listening.

  2. Bill, you are so right. It's unfortunate that listening is so neglected because its impact is nothing less that profound. I appreciate your positive feedback and reinforcement!


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