Recently I discovered that some people actually listen during conversation. These crazies pay attention to the words you use to make sentences, and, what’s really frightening, they use the ideas that come from these sentences to determine your “character.” Boy, was I ever floored! I was always under the impression that conversation was mostly a game. Smile, nod, and say “that’s interesting” or “I’ve never really thought of it that way” and, if your friend plays nicely, they return the favor and follow suit. Well, now that I’ve discovered that conversation is more than just a chance to touch people in public, I’m going straight to the stacks to learn how to listen!
Luckily for me, I found everything I needed in John Selby’s Listening With Empathy: Creating Genuine Connections with Customers and Colleagues. I figure, if someone is going to teach me how to listen, they might as well teach me to be empathic at the same time, right?
After quickly scanning the index, I jumped straight to Chapter 10:“Listening with Calm Compassion.” Here Mr. Shelby offers this keen insight: “I’ve observed that most of us don’t seem to listen very well… because our attention is one step in the future, imagining our clever reply.”(161) OK, now that we know the problem, what’s the solution, Mr. Shelby? He suggests, “Just remember to hold half of your attention on your own breathing experience and present-moment physical presence in the room. Hold the other half of your attention on the words that the person is speaking and on taking in the person’s visual presence as well.” (33)Let me see if I’ve got this right: divide your attention, focus on your breath, focus on how you’re standing, and scrutinize the speaker’s looks. That’s it? I do that already. Now, let’s empathize!
Mr. Shelby explains that empathy is not a thought, but an action. He says, “rather than staying overly fixated on your own feelings and thoughts when you meet someone, to feel empathy you need to shift your focus of attention strongly toward the physical presence and experience of the other person.” I read this sentence twelve times and it still makes no sense. How can anyone draw focus away from themselves by imagining how another person feels when the very act of imagination forces them to think internally? And to think you can understand how a person feels by imagining their feelings is called projection, not empathy.
I guess what I discovered today is that I’m already a pretty good listener. I always smile when people are trying to tell me something. And, although I may not actually hear what they are saying, I’m always paying attention to how they look. For example, if someone looks unhappy because they can tell I’m not listening, I just offer them a bigger smile. See, now that’s paying attention!
Selby, John. Listening With Empathy: Creating Genuine Connections with Customers and Colleagues. Hampton Roads Publishing Company, 2007