Give others your full attention
“When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.” Ernest Hemingway
Recently I attended a lecture. I was astounded by the general disinterest in attendees in the speaker. People were blatantly ignoring him, texting on their phones, playing on iPads. They were completely disengaged.
It was insulting.
It made me feel so sad.
When other people are speaking to us, they deserve our full attention.
Have you ever tried talking to a group and felt no one was listening to you? Or have you ever had a conversation one-on-one where you could TELL the other person wasn’t present and engaged?
With the advent of smart phones, so many people associate being distracted by using portable technology while others are talking.
But it’s more than putting away the phone.
Real listening, real conversation, real engagement involves MENTALLY disengaging from the swirl of thoughts that go through your brain and putting ALL your focus–mental, physical, and emotional–on the person speaking and really HEARING what he or she is saying to you.
One of my favorite childhood memories is going to get donuts with my Daddy on Saturday mornings at 7 am.
As far back as I can remember, Saturday’s were my dates with Daddy. At 7 am, I would creep out of my room (though sometimes I was up before then–quietly playing with my barbies or reading in my bed) and into our downstairs family room. When Dad was up he would come down and we would get ready to go out for our traditional father-daughter breakfast. We would go to a small restaurant downtown for donuts.
Eddie (the owner and pastry man) knew us by name. When he saw me come in, my donut would be ready special–just for me. A cake donut with chocolate frosting and rainbow sprinkles. As an adult, I have tried to seek out and replicate this donut. No one does it right. They use glazed donuts, or the cake isn’t cakey enough, the frosting artificial, or a machine has been involved. Not Eddie in the kitchen making me my special Lora donut. One day I will find the perfect match–fresh out of the oven. As an adult I would pair it with coffee (as my Daddy did) and, just as I did as a kid, I would savor the donut slowly–little bite by bite. I never wanted to finish my donut. For our Daddy-Lora time to end.
Sometimes, Daddy just listened to me ramble. I loved to talk as a child about anything and everything. (Some childhood habits definitely stick around–ha!) Sometimes, I would listen as Dad and Eddie talked business and food. Sometimes, we would just be quiet together. I didn’t care what we did–just that we did it together.
I realize that these donut mornings were amazing because my Dad and I spent such wonderful quality time together. What was more amazing, however, is that these Saturday mornings taught me the importance of listening and being present with others.
Have you ever noticed that when you truly pay attention you find you can remember better details about a person, a conversation, a piece of art, the architecture of a home, a history lesson? It’s all because when you truly let your brain relax and let in what the other person is saying, you listen and receive.
I know most people didn’t learn about listening with their Daddy’s at 7 am. In fact, in recent years I realized I too was a distracted listener. But the good news is that we can ALWAYS learn the art of listening. It starts by giving others your full attention and letting go the chatter of the mind (you can think about your grocery store check-list another time), turning off our devices, and focusing on the other person.
Breathe with them, really listen to what they are saying. And, as my acting teacher Josh Pais taught me years ago, when you find you are no longer listening and your brain is wandering down distraction lane, just give yourself a mental “I’m back”–and RE-FOCUS your attention on the other person and the present moment you are sharing.
If you are in a room surrounded by others who are distracted, lead by example. Be the one to listen to the lecturer or presenter. If others try to engage you in becoming distracted, simply let them know politely that you are otherwise engaged.
As you spend time with those who are close to you, remind yourself to be fully with them. Silence your cell phones. Put them away. And watch your relationships with friends and family GROW!
And if you know of a spot with reeeaaaallllly good cake donuts with chocolate frosting and sprinkles, let me know. I will have to call up my Daddy and have a father-daughter date for so more bonding and listening over coffee and donuts at 7 am.