Listen up…

August 31, 2020

Today’s post to the Jack’s Winning Words blog used this quote – “We win more friends with our ears than with our lips.”  (Pastor Bob’s Bulletin)

Pastor Freed and I have both posted many times about the importance of listening, but many were too busy talking to see those posts. Perhaps you know someone who is always too busy talking to let you “get a word in edgewise”. My wife and I once had dinner with a woman (and her husband) who absolutely could not stop talking, mainly about herself. Her long-suffering husband just sat there eating and listening, as did we. At the end of the meal for the rest of us, she had not stopped talking long enough to take a bite of her meal, so she got it boxed to go. That was certainly an extreme case, but similar thigs often happen with others who would rather talk than listen. I know several people who apparently cannot stand the sound of silence, so they fill it with blather.

Listening well, sometimes called “deep listening” is a skill and discipline that most do not develop. It takes concentration and a focus that is away from oneself and onto the other person. Rather than being focus on what you want to say next, you must focus upon what is currently being said by the other party and process that information. Your thoughts should be on how you can best respond to the information that the other person is sharing – how can you help them or how can you share their concerns or joys.

I’ll bet that you know someone who starts to talk after you have finished and then interrupts themselves to ask, “Wait, what did you just say?” They realize that they didn’t really listen to what you said, but somewhere is the back of their mind a flag went up that tells them that they should have been listening. They were focusing upon what they were going to say next. They heard you speaking but they didn’t really hear what you said.

You can start to be a better listener and a better friend, by forcing yourself to focus your attention upon the words of the other person. Don’t just hear them. Process them. Figure out what the person is saying or trying to say. Read (or hear) between the lines. Is this a call for help? Is this just a sharing of happiness? How should you react to this information? If you force yourself to concentrate and answer questions like that in your mind during the conversation, you may find that you are getting a lot more out of the conversation and are able to put a lot more back into it. There will be time to think about what you are going to say next when they have stopped talking.

Another tip to be a better listener is to focus visually on the speaker. Don’t let your eyes dart around to other things or people. See how they are speaking and well as hearing their words. Look for body language signs of distress or happiness. Look for openness and gestures or signs of trust that should give you a cue that your advice or your help is truly being sought. Sometimes the signs that a hug is needed are obvious or that a kind and supportive word will go a long way to help. Sometimes you will notice that they cannot seem to focus upon you, to look you in the eye. That is normally a sign that they don’t yet feel comfortable (or trusting) with what they are sharing with you and words of reassurance and encouragement may be needed.

So, maybe the best starting point to becoming a better listener is to keep reminding yourself that this is your role at the moment. Say to yourself, “They are talking and I am listening; how can I do the best job as a listener?” If you are more aware of your role as the listener, you will do a better job at it. Once you can do that, you’ll also do a better job and a friend.

So, listen up!


I don’t need to hear you talk…I need for you to listen

October 4, 2018

I recently wrote a post about getting things out of the shadows. One of those things was depression. As happens every time that I mention depression, I got several likes/comments/follows from people who are dealing with, or have dealt with, depression.

I sometimes go look at the blog sites of people who follow my blog and in this case I perused a post on one of the blog sites that had some interesting advice for those trying to be a help to someone suffering from depression. That post was titled “Why I tried to Commit Suicide”

The gist of the advice from that post was that the person suffering through depression who may reach out for help is not looking for a cheerleader to tell them that everythinggirl with smile picture will be OK. Instead, they are looking for someone to listen to them, share their pain and perhaps offer support.

This blogger also pointed out a common mistake that would-be helpful friend often make – trying to help by reminding them that things could be worse.

In today’s post to the Jack’s Winning Words blog, the quote that Jack used seemed appropriate –

“Knowing that there is worse pain doesn’t make the present pain hurt any less.”  (Gordon Atkinson)

I would characterize the advice of the blogger who shared her journey through the dark tunnels of depression to those who may be trying to help someone suffering through that trauma as follows:

I don’t want your pity; I want your support.

I don’t want to hear how great things are from your point of view; I want you to help me find a way out from my point of view.

I don’t need to hear you talk; I need for you to listen.

That last point may be the most important. When we try to “help” people we all tend to rush to some quick conclusion of what we think we need to do and we start talking.  Basically, we stop listening and start giving advice, even if we don’t yet understand the problem.  We usually miss the signs from that person that we just made a mistake.depression2 Unfortunately, the person who was seeking our help sinks back behind the shield that they had temporarily lowered to ask for our help. They may smile back and nod their head in apparent agreement, but we blew the opportunity to really help.

There is a difference between listening and waiting for your turn to speak. (Simon Sinek)

Unfortunately, most of us are so full of ourselves that we are just waiting for the next opportunity to speak, in order to show how brilliant we are. We don’t understand how stupid phrases like “I know how you feel” or “I feel your pain” sound to the person that we think we are trying to help. A more honest statement might be, “I can’t imagine the pain that you are feeling, but I want to try to help.”

caringYou can’t really help until you understand the issues that are causing the pain for that person and you will never understand them until you listen to them. If you have to speak, just ask more questions to keep the conversation focused upon getting to the root of the problems that the person is having such trouble dealing with. Only then can we begin to really try to help.

There are many ways to approach problem solving, once we understand the problems. I have posted her a few time on approaches that might help in this situation as well as helping us solve our own problems. See –

https://normsmilfordblog.com/2014/03/05/problem-solving-101/

and

https://normsmilfordblog.com/2015/02/05/making-the-turns-in-life/

Those are two of those posts on problem solving.

However, the point of today’s missive is not to give advice about the solution that you may offer to someone who seeks you help; but, rather, to help you find the best way to help them by listening to them. You may not need to do anything other than that for them.

I think L. J. Isham  put it well – “Listening is an attitude of the heart, a genuine desire listento be with another which both attracts and heals.”

If you want to help – LISTEN!


What will you hear?

September 19, 2017

“A wise man hears one word and understands two.”  (Yiddish Proverb) – from my favorite source for quotes, a recent post to the Jack’s Winning Words blog.

Jack went on to write about reading between the lines and understanding that there is listeningusually more to what someone is saying than just the words that they may use. One must listen for nuances in the delivery of those words and observe the body language that is also going on. Unfortunately, too many people re so busy thinking about what they want to say next to pay the kind of attention to the speaker that they need to use, in order to really “hear” what they are saying.

What do you hear when the other party is speaking in a conversation? Do you sense and feel the pain that may be there? Can you see that, beyond the brave front that the wordshelp-me may be putting up, there is fear or sorrow or concern that needs to be shared and needs your empathy and help? Can you hear the excitement or joy that the other person may be trying to share with you? Do you listen for the cues that a follow-up question is more important that what you may have wanted to say next?

If all that you hear is “blah, blah, blah”, while you are waiting to jump in with your next thought; then you need to work on being a better listener and perhaps a better friend or person. People have conversations because they want to share things from their lives. They may be looking for reassurance or for help. They may just think that something that they did is interesting enough that you might find it interesting, too. Maybe they just listenneed to “get it off their chest” and are hoping that you provide that sympathetic ear.

Not everyone has time for a full medical report from everyone they meet when they ask “How are you doing?”; however, perhaps that is an opening to set up a longer meeting later to discuss whatever it is that they need to share.  If you really don’t care; then don’t ask. If you do care; then either listen now or listen later, but listen.

So, be a wise man and a good friend and listen between the lines for the unspoken Do you need a hugsignals that indicate that the person that you are talking to may have deeper needs than are being expressed in the words.  Someday you’ll be the one who needs a friend to listen to your problems and you’ll be glad that they listened for the words that were between the lines. What will you hear today?

 


Listen and help, listen and learn…

August 5, 2017

Two quotes from recent posts to the Jack’s Winning Words blog seem to fit together nicely to illustrate the benefits of being a good listener.

“All people want is someone to listen.”  (Hugh Elliott)

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“A good listener is not only popular everywhere, but after a while he gets to know something.”  (Wilson Mizner)

It seems like there are nightly stories on the news shows about people complaining that no one in their local government is listening to them or at least ignoring what they have to say. Much of the psychiatric and psychological practices in modern medicine aredebaters based upon careful listening. It would seem that many of the problems in politics today could be attributed to the two main sides not taking time to listen to the other. In our daily lives we encounter many opportunities to listen to others; but, how many of us really put the effort into listening, rather than getting ready for the next things that we want to say?

We often greet others with trite little sayings for which we don’t really expect much of an answer, and certainly not a full conversation. Saying “Hi. How are you?” is not really an invitation for the other party to go into an in-depth medical report. However, seeing someone you know who has been through something in their life that was disruptive and saying something like “How have you been since you go out of the hospital?” is an handshakeinvitation to a conversation and an expression of concern and care about that person. That conversation will deserve a good listener and there will be therapeutic value in the attention that you pay to the other party. They may rally need to share with someone who is willing to listen.

The other potential benefit of being a good listener is that you learn things and it builds you knowledge base. Good listening is a constant process of hearing, evaluating, sorting and storing or discarding the information that you hear. Listening is not considered to be as strong of a learning experience as seeing and perhaps that is because so few people really listen well. It takes commitment and concentration to listen well. That means that you suspend for the moment your thoughts about what you want to say next and focus on that is being said by the other party. For most of us that is a hard thing to do.

In poker the players watch the others in the game intently looking for what are called “tells”, which are visual clues that manifest themselves in the other players’ facial expression or body language to give away whether they have a good or maybe are just bluffing. In conversations there are “tells” that indicate whether the other person isarrogant really listening to you or just thinking about their next opportunity to speak. You can see their lack of eye contact or the expression on their face. It’s that look of, “Oh God, I really didn’t want to hear about your problems; I’ve got problems of my own.” Good listeners will be paying close attention to your words and may interject some words of encouragement or understanding as you speak. Good listeners may also ask questions about the topic that you were expounding upon, because they are processing the information and want to learn more about it.

listenAre you a good listener? Do you commit to listen when engaging others in conversation or do you just do join the conversation so that you can interject your point of view without real regard for their position? That is the unfortunate situation in the political environment in our county today. The Bible has this to say about those who do not listen, but only want to talk. “A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.” – Proverbs 18:2.

-and-

“If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.” – Proverbs 18:13

Don’t be the fool who dos not listen, but chimes in with his/her answer before the question is complete. Take the time to listen. The speaker will appreciate it and you may even learn something. Have a great weekend.


Do you hear the whispers?

August 25, 2016

From a recent Jack’s Winning Words blog comes this thought

“After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.”  (Aldous Huxley)

I’ve written a few times here about the power of music in our lives – it’s ability to alter our mood by evoking memories (think of your favorite love song or song about a lost love) or conjuring up imagery in our minds eye (the song Eye of the Tiger comes to mind). Songs can have a powerful influence on our lives, but not nearly the power of silence.

It is in total silence that our mind is free to wander on its own and to focus upon hearing that small littlesilence voice that is always trying to get through to us – perhaps the voice of God; trying, as always, to call us back to Him.

There is a saying that we have on a little plaque on our kitchen wall that seems appropriate:

“Make time for the quiet moments, as God whispers and the world is loud.”  (Greg Olson)

We live in such a fast-paced and loud world that making time for silence is hard; yet it is essential to our well-being and to the practice of our faith. It is a well-known public speaker technique to begin to speak softly when you’re faced with a noisy audience. It causes everyone to stop speaking themselves and to lean in to try to hear what the speaker is so softly wonderingsaying. Perhaps God uses that technique to get our attention by whispering to us. We really have to lean in in order to hear what He is saying.

There is a time before church every week; before the organist starts playing the prelude to the service and before the sanctuary fills with the buzz of people still talking about their secular lives, where I often see one or two people quietly sitting in the pews, taking advantage of the silence to pray or listen for the voice of God. Sometimes you will find people just sitting in church during the week doing the same thing. They are making quite moments and listening for the whispers of God.man praying

One doesn’t have to be in church to listen for God, but it does help to be in quite surroundings, in silence, if possible. For many, those moments may come at night, while lying in bed; if they are able to shut out the thoughts of the rest of the day and focus upon the silence. Even then, God waits for you to initiate the conversation; but, once you call on Him, listen intently to the whispers that you will hear in reply. It is the Shepard calling and as is written – “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” – John 10:27

So, listen up people…God has something to say to you.


Be there for someone today…

May 23, 2016

“Remember that everyone you meet is afraid of something, loves something and has lost something.”  (H. Jackson Brown Jr) – as seen recently on the Jack’s Winning Words blog.

timidYou will meet many people this week and all of them will be people for whom the little quote above applies. Many of them may also be someone who is need of someone else to share their fears or sadness or love with; someone who cares about them and their situation or condition. Maybe that can be you.

Our typical greeting of, “How are you?” has become such a throw-away line that we really don’t expect an answer, other than perhaps the retort, “Fine, how are you?” We ask without really caring about the other person. If anything, we respond because we want to tell them about our troubles or issues, in hopes of evoking their empathy with our situation.

I meet very few people in day-to-day life who seem really interested in the response to their, “How are you?” question. The more normal interaction is with someone who is chopping at the bit to tell me about themselves ad to share their problems. When I do meet someone who is genuinely interested in understanding me it is almost immediately obvious that their opening question, was just that – the beginning of what they hope to be a dialogue that will answer their other questions, like who are you, what makes you tick, what interesting things can I learn about you and from you? I’ve written here before that Pastor Doug McMunn, Pastor of the Milford United Methodist Church, is one such person.

How can you tell when you’ve met such a person? Well for one, they will spend much more time listening than talking themselves. They will ask short open-ended questions andempathy then intently listen to your answers. They will express empathy or sympathy, while also offering support and encouragement. You will also notice that you start to feel better because you found someone with whom you can share things that may have been nagging at you or even overwhelming you. Figuratively (and perhaps literally), you have found a shoulder to cry upon. You’ll feel better and they will too, for having been there for you.

How can you pay it forward? Be there for someone else this week. Be that good listener. Mean it when you ask the question, “How are you?” Stop and offer a shoulder to cry upon; then offer the support and encouragement that they need to move on in life. Help that person understand that they are not alone in their pain or sorrow or fears. Help them extract those demons and deal with them.

Do you need a hugThere is a rather famous sports clip of the late Jimmy Valvano running around the court after NC State won the 1983 National Championship game (click here to view ). He would later say that he was just running around looking for someone to hug. Many of us are like that in life. We run around through life looking for someone to hug. Be there this week to get and give that hug.


What will you get out of today?

April 16, 2016

“If you haven’t found something strange during the day, it hasn’t been much of a day.”  (John Wheeler) – from a recent post on the Jack’s Winning Words blog.

I might have put it a different way – “If you haven’t learned something new today, it hasn’t been much of a day.” The thought is pretty much the same. Hopefully each day brings opportunities to learn something new. Some days may, in fact, present stranger things than others to learn from; but all days likely have something new that we should take note of, if we pay attention. Paying attention is probably the key to learning anything. So much of our attention these days is diverted towards the device in the palm of our hand that we miss many things going on around us.

Much of want you can learn on any given day comes out of the interactions that you have with the people that you encounter. All of them walk into your life from a direction that is handshake3different from where you were looking and they all carry different information and different points of view. Haven’t you ever wondered how things look from their perspective? If you encounter people with backgrounds that vary greatly from yours, maybe an immigrant or a person from a different ethnic group, haven’t you ever been curious how much different their take is on things than yours? Did you ever ask? What did you learn from that? It’s OK to start from the position of “I don’t understand you”; however, it is wrong to jump from there to “and I don’t like you, or I’m afraid of you, because of that.” Why not try to use the experience to learn something about that person. You may be surprised by who they really are.

Other learning opportunities grow out of the adversity that may come your way on any given day – roadblocks to achieving a goal or unexpected disruptions or rifts in a roadblocksrelationship with a friend or loved one. Not only can you learn problem solving techniques from each incident, but you also learn something new about yourself and about the other parties involved (and adversities almost always involve other parties). Try to make each encounter with adversity a learning experience.

Stop and ask yourself if you understand the differing point of view of the person with whom you are having some difficulty. Understand that whether or not you feel that their disagreement2point of view has merit; to them it is the perspective from which they are viewing the situation and the basis upon which they are making their decisions. Ask yourself if you
even considered that point of view? Now that you understand their perspective does it change your position at all? If not, why not? Obviously there are different ways of looking at the situation and no way to determine that your way of seeing it is the “right” way to see things. Maybe there is a compromise that you just have not yet considered. To overlook that possibility leads only to polarization and stalemate.

At the end of each day, take a moment to think back on the day and see if you can pick out the things that you learned during the day. That is a great way to actually make thosebored learning experiences a part of your knowledge base and a step towards turning knowledge into wisdom. What did you see today? Who did you meet today? What did you learn today? What did you get out of today?


Spread the smiles today…

November 3, 2015

“A word or a smile is often enough to put fresh life in a despondent soul.”  (St Therese of Lisieux)

St ThereseWe can’t all be Saints, but most of us could try to emulate St. Terese of Lisieux, who believed in responding to the problems and people of the world with a smile and an attitude that said, “How can I help?”  Most often her solution was to pray for the people that she encountered or who needed help and apparently those prayers worked many times.

We all encounter people during the day who look distressed or unhappy. Many times our inclination is to turn away, to avoid eye contact and hope that they go away. How much more helpful it would be if we took St. Thereis’ advice and instead put a smile on our faces and speak to them.

Maybe you don’t feel like you have the time to devote to the answer if you ask, “Is anything wrong? Can I help you?” After all you have places to go and people to see; things to do and tasks to be accomplished. You don’t have time for a conversation with this person or to deal with whatever issuescaring are troubling them. Maybe you don’t have time NOT to do that.

Take a moment to reflect on what it would be like if you were hurting from a loss or an emotional trauma of some sort and no one would even look at you, much less offer to help by just listening to your story. How lonely you would be: how worthless you would feel. If you can feel that in yourself; then, recognize it in others. Be the one who stops and asks and then takes the time to listen.

Sometimes there is little that you can do but to smile and listen; to commiserate and reassure; to say it will be alright, even if you can’t figure out how. Many times that is enough to put that fresh life in a despondent soul. Sometimes a hug and a stroke on the hair of the person in need is better than band aids and pills that doctors might dispense.

caregiver handsWhen you stop and think about it, is there anything else that you might have had planned to do today that is more important than reaching out to help someone else in need? Somehow I doubt it. And for that person that you helped, you were the most important person in their life today; you were their hero. How much more important than that could you wish for?

Now, maybe you won’t have an encounter like that which was described above; maybe you’ll just pass a few people who were in a down mood until they saw the smile on your face and that had a positive impact on them, too. Maybe your smile got passed on to a few of them and then they passed it on again, until soon 20-30 people were sharing your smile. What a great contribution you’ve made that day.smiling girl Perhaps you’ll need to get a bit of it back later in the day, if you’ve encountered some difficulty. If you see someone else smiling, and that helps you; take a moment to see if you recognize that smile; maybe it was yours coming back to help you.

Have a great day and week ahead and spread the smiles. And, if you get the chance; strop and ask someone in need if you can help them.


Have the courage to listen and to speak and don’t be a dead fish…

October 20, 2015

“Some people should use a glue stick instead of Chapstick.”  (Pinterest) – as seen on the Jack’s Winning Words blog.

Today’s little quote is somewhat judgmental about others, but makes a good point about shutting up and talking-2listening. Sometimes the best thing that we can do is to listen, to hear out the other person, before we jump in with our own comments or thoughts. One of the hardest human traits to break, or at least control, is the tendency to be so wrapped up in your own thoughts and opinions that you don’t really listen to the opinions of others. We just can’t wait to get their own thoughts into the conversation and, in so doing; we ignore or miss the thoughts of the other parties. Does that ever happen to you? I know someone like that and after she starts talking to express her thoughts, she often stops and says, “No wait. What did you say?” It’s as if her brain is on a 10-20 second delay about what you said somehow and it only catches up after she has started talking.

I like the way Winston Churchill put it – “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.”

I think what Churchill was getting at is the courage it takes to really listen and understand the other person’s point of view on things. Taking the time to listen might also better equip you to make a more appropriate response or,listening even better, to realize that sometimes no response is really needed. Is it more courageous to lash back at someone who has just made a hateful remark towards you, or to quietly say “I’m sorry you feel that way”, and go on with life? What do you gain by lashing back at that person? Maybe both you and they need some more time to think about the situation before anything else is said.

Sometimes, when you sit down and listen, you realize that the person making hateful or racist or homophobic remarks has no basis other than hate or fear for making the remarks, even if they try to mask them in the context of religious beliefs. Once you recognize the underlying ugliness for what it really is, your anger may quickly turn to pity. If you realize opinionatedthat something in that person’s life has happened to bring them to this hateful state, you might think, “How terrible it must be to be filled with such angry and hate; I’ll pray for you.” You’ll have to be the judge on whether saying that out loud would help or just further inflame the situation. Either way, say the prayer for them.

Many times, especially early in life, incidents may happen when you are among those whom you consider to be your friends. It is during those times that the advice of J. K. Rowling comes to mind –

“It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends.”

It is not only the brave thing to do, but the right thing to do to stand up and say something, even to your friends, if what is happening is wrong. That is especially true in situations of bullying in school or invitations to do things thatfriends at school you know just aren’t right. It is true later in life when you decline to be drawn into gossip about others or to join in hateful talk or actions. There is great peer pressure at all ages to join others who may be for or against certain things or people or who are doing things that are wrong. The old phrase “go along to get along” was invented to describe the easy (cowardly) way to deal with those situations.

Many times the topic of conversation or of the actions at hand are not something that you may not have formed an opinion about one way or the other. Rather than having the courage to sit and listen and then make an informed decision; you just go along with the crowd, sometimes as much as anything on a dare. It’s as if someone has said to you, “What, are you afraid to cast the first stone?” So you go along with the crowd, even if it is going in an uncomfortable direction. At times like that, perhaps the advice of Jim Hightower will help –

“The opposite for courage is not cowardice, it is conformity. Even a dead fish can go with the flow.”

dead fishHave a great day and have the courage of your convictions. If you don’t have convictions in any situation, have the courage to admit that to yourself and listen and think before you act or join in the action. Don’t be a dead fish going with the flow.


Can we talk?

September 9, 2015

“Sometimes having coffee with your best friend is all you need.”  (Sent by LG) – as featured on the Jack’s Winning Words blog. Jack went on to write about the late Joan Rivers and her famous line, “Can we talk?”

girls huggingThere are times when we all have the need to talk things out, either directly with someone with whom we may be having an issue or just with a friend when the topic may not be about a personal conflict. There are also times when a friend of ours may need to talk to someone and turns to us. Whether you are the talker or the listener in times of need, the act of talking and listening is important to both of you.

It is very helpful sometimes to have to put your feelings into words. Emotions are a reaction to something that has happened in your life and it helps if you find a way to verbalize that something and think a little about your reaction to it. There are obvious things, like the loss of a loved one that cause emotional reactions; but, there are many other things that may cause fear or anger or hatred or remorse and we need to understand them better and why we have reacted as we have. Talking things out can help you get to the root of the problem. You may not always like what you find there, since mental pre-sets like prejudice or stereotyping may have led you astray; but even coming to an understanding of those preconceived notions is helpful. Sometimes you may even say to yourself, “I can’t believe that I just said that out loud.” That’s OK, too; at least you got it out and now you can deal with it.

If you happen to be in the role of the listener for someone who needs to talk, take you role seriously. That personlistening has put a lot of trust and faith in you to be there for them, so you need to be a good listener and a good friend at that moment. Trying to laugh off whatever problem that they are sharing with you is not helpful. Commiserating with them is not the answer either. They came to you for help, not pity. Your real role in these types of situations is to provide the common-sense guidance on how to cope or deal with the matter at hand that they cannot muster at the moment.

Many times the best advice that you can provide may be to help them reconnect with their faith and to unload their burden on the God that they have trusted all of their lives. Help them get to the mental state where they can say, “Not my will, but thy will be done.” Once they have done that they can begin the journey back to a more normal life.

prayingThere is a tipping point in all crises where one can fall off the cliff into depression or see the light and head back into life. As the listener in the conversation, it is your job to help them see that light. Giving advice like “shake it off” or “put on your big girl panties” may sound like something that you should say; however, finding a way to have them trust and lean on their faith in crises is much more useful. If they can turn to God and say, “Can we talk?” they will find the help that they really need. Show them that door and let them open it and go through it. Then, remember where it’s at, because you’ll probably need it someday yourself.