Like an old radio, my brain gets these fleeting moments of clarity.
As I turn the dial, I go slightly past the station I’m looking for; I turn back and go a little past again; then forward and all of sudden I’ve hit the sweet spot, the place where the sound is crystal clear. Better than real life. But it’s only for a second, soon the edge comes off and a little static slips in, next thing I know it’s broadcasting another station or a mix of the one I want along with one playing some old classic metal crap like Def Leppard.
I realize the whole world is talking and very few people listening, myself included. Sure I know how to seem like I’m listening, but it’s just like when I drive home from work and arrive with absolutely no recollection of the drive. I smile, I nod make some innocuous comment to show empathy, and all the while, I’m actually wondering if my tax refund is waiting for me at home in the mailbox or if I have time to pick up my dry-cleaning on the drive home.
This is the way we communicate today: perceived attention. Problem is, it leaves us feeling alone, and the more alone we feel, the more time we spend inside our own heads. The more time we isolate ourselves, the less we listen and the less connected we become to those around us. And this is when we’re being polite or are stuck at some stupid networking thing; when we’re less concerned about offending others, we interrupt, talk-over, interject when our “conversant” takes a breath. Or all too often, we just start talking about something that has nothing to do with the original topic.
Think about politicians: an interviewer asks them a question, they don’t answer, they answer the one they wanted to be asked. Advertisers keep trying to sell us a bunch of stuff we don’t need, won’t use and in all likelihood will throw away or store permanently within the first three months of buying. It’s like Groundhog Day every day, except we keep waking up to a Filter Queen presentation, the one where the guy only wants to hear you say ok, otherwise he’ll keep talking and trying to sell you the $4,000 vacuum regardless of what you have to say about it.
So I ask myself, what if I stop talking so much and start listening? I know it won’t change the world, but isn’t the reason we all talk so much because we just want to be heard? We have hopes and dreams and nobody cares; not because they’re bad but because no one is listening to them. So I’m going to try listening. I have this feeling that people will probably tell me stuff I never imagined. They might think I’m the most awesome person at the party, not because I had anything intelligent or witty to say, but because I gave them the gift of an audience for a rare moment in an otherwise quietly desperate life.
So the next time you feel yourself winding up to make your point – don’t. Sit back, relax and listen to what people are saying to you. Ask them questions; be personal. Most of us just want an uninterrupted chance to tell someone our story; we’re not looking for a miracle, just a little validation.