Brody: Practicing the art of listening

Good listening is an art. To me, it is one of the most important parts of our communication skills, and, once understood, a precious gift.

Over the years and through some pretty hard experiences, I believe I know the value of being a good listener.

Have you ever been trying to tell someone something important to you and see them check their watch for the time? It feels awful. Or what if the listener keeps looking around and away from you? I’ve actually lost my train of thought or forgotten my story altogether when this happens.

More than that, if you are the listener and you don’t pay any attention to what someone is trying to say to you, it could result in a critical mistake. I have a true example to hopefully make you think about the importance of good listening.

Just the other day, I was walking my 20 laps when I saw one of the residents here. We both stopped walking and I made the remark that I was glad to see her walking laps.

I started telling her when I was in the hospital they asked me how I got my legs so strong. I said, “I exercise every day and walk 20 laps and …”

That resident turned right around and walked away right in the middle of my sentence. Do you think she was really listening to me? Of course not.

The least she could have done was to pretend to listen, right? Actually no, she probably couldn’t.

The first thing I noticed about an attentive         listener is eye contact. There are other things to remember to do which I’ll state at the end.

I want to tell you the main reason why I feel so passionate about listening.

I had a friend name Lynn. We met in university and after graduation we remained good friends. I went on to graduate school while she married almost immediately. Nine months later she had her first baby.

During her pregnancy she had a really rough time and she called me daily. I always took time to listen.

It wasn’t too long before I had a good job during the day and went to university at night and my time got precious. I even got married during that time.

Truly I was strapped for time and she had had three babies by then, each one making her sicker than the last plus her marriage was stressed. Her nightly calls were really hurting me by then so I had a plan. I arranged to meet her once a week in person and I’d listen as long as she wanted me to.

Then one night she called, frantic, “Please Jean, meet me. I have to talk to you. You’re my best friend and I’m desperate.”

What did I say? I said I was simply out of time and maybe could see her next week and we hung up.

The next night she called again and she used that word, “desperate” again. How stupid and selfish was I? Wouldn’t you think I would have picked up on her desperate note? Once again I repeated that I’d see her next week.

That very night she drove to her Ozark mountain cabin  and hanged herself alone. Now maybe I could not have changed her mind had I taken the time to listen that horrible night, but who knows? I had to live with this ever since.

Yes, I am obsessed with listening. Over the years I have learned a few necessary things to be a good listener:

— Make eye contact with the one talking.

— Try to listen fully with your heart and respect.

— Remember never to check your watch or turn away from the one talking.

— Never interrupt to tell your own experience similar to the one being told.

Such a thing hopefully will never happen to you. Please practice good listening skills.

The view from the mountain is woundrous.

Jean Brody is a passionate animal lover and mother. She previously lived in Winchester, but now resides in Littleton, Colorado. Her column has appeared in the Sun for more than 25 years.